A brief article in the Wall Street Journal concludes that, nationally, a significant part of the disappearance of construction workers has to do with a gap in the supply line. (We’re putting aside, I guess, the degree to which illegal immigrants have pushed part of the construction industry out of view.)
By supply line, I mean new, young workers:
The two researchers also looked at industry hiring to come up with another possible reason for a tightening labor market within the construction sector: Simply, construction companies didn’t hire enough young workers.
“The percent of hires accounted for by the 19-25 age group declined from approximately 18% at its peak before 2006 to 13% in 2012-13,” Janicki and McEntarfer said. “In comparison, the composition of hires of workers in the 25-34 and 34-44 age groups shows much more modest declines over this time period.”
During my construction years in a growing shop, I worked with a number of young guys. A good number spun out of the job because it could be difficult and uncomfortable. Some chugged along with it as the best available option, at the moment. And some (like me) quickly advanced in the ranks, investing in tools, to become full carpenters and even foremen.
Young workers, in short, are a gamble for construction companies. At a time when employees are plentiful (and willing to take less money), contractors will prefer more-seasoned guys who are more reliable and more flexible and advanced in what they can do and who have more of their own equipment.
That tendency could be reversed, though, if the industry were more free. That is, if the government licensing, regulating, and permitting processes weren’t so burdensome, if employers were free to pay employees what employees are willing to work for, and if the policies for public projects weren’t so tilted toward labor unions, then individual tradesmen could start their own small crews, relying on help from younger men and women, and build up both the companies and the employees to their unique potential.
But we don’t like freedom and its benefits anymore in Rhode Island or the United States, apparently.