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An unfinished construction project in Houston, Texas.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

America's Housing Construction Labor Shortage Continues

Monday, May 8, 2017

By Scott Beyer, Forbes contributor

Several years after the Great Recession, it's safe to say that America's housing market is back. Since 2009, when the number of new authorized housing units dipped to 583,000, they have ticked up every year since, and are now around 1.2 million annually. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index has also increased every year since then, almost returning to the levels found in the late-1990s boom years. And national median home prices, while bottoming out in 2012, have risen back up to their 2007 levels, creating a nearly perfect symmetrical, upside-down bell curve on Zillow's 10-year graph.

But one element of the housing industry has not returned: the workers. And this appears to have increased construction costs, becoming one of the under-reported factors behind America's rising home sale prices.

This problem began surfacing in 2012, as construction activity picked up and the unemployment rate dropped. It has worsened in the years since, according to numerous reports. Most notable has been the annual labor shortage survey published by NAHB, which tallies answers from the nation's single-family homebuilders. According to Paul Emrath, an economist for the organization, “the share of builders reporting either some or a serious shortage has skyrocketed from a low of 21 percent in 2012, to 46 percent in 2014, 52 percent in 2015, and now 56 percent in 2016.”

The shortages have harmed builders' abilities to both form their own workforces, and hire subcontractors, such as bricklayers and electricians. The net result, according to the 2016 survey, is that 75% of builders say they've had to pay higher wages and bids, 64% have delayed projects, and 68% have raised home prices.

National Association of Home Builders
This graph shows that labor shortage complaints from developers have ticked up every year since 2012.

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