Labor Shortages Ease, But Remain Worse Than in the Last Boom


With home building volumes lower, labor shortages have eased considerably since record levels set in 2021 but remain relatively widespread in a historic context, according to results from the latest NAHB/Well Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) survey. The February 2024 HMI survey asked builders about shortages in 16 specific trades. The percentage of builders reporting a shortage (either some or serious) of labor they employ directly ranged from a low of 33% for landscape workers to a high of 65%  for those performing finished carpentry. The finished carpentry shortage was down from 72% in 2023 and an all-time high of 85% in 2021 but remains higher than it was at any time during the 2004-2006 housing boom (when it reached a temporary peak of 58% in July 2005). Most of the labor shortage percentages in the above figure follow a similar historic pattern. In the typical case, most of the physical work required to build a home is performed not by laborers employed directly by the builders, but by subcontractors. As a 2020 NAHB study  showed, builders on average use two dozen different subcontractors and subcontract out 84% of their total construction costs to build a single-family home. The February 2024 HMI survey also collected information about shortages of subcontractors.  The percentage of builders reporting a shortage of subcontractors ranged from 35% for building maintenance managers to 63%  for finished carpenters. For all 16 trades, the shortage percentages for subcontractors and labor directly employed were fairly similar. Averaged over the nine trades that NAHB has covered in a consistent way since the 1990s (carpenter-rough, carpenter-finished, electricians, excavators, framing crews, roofers, plumbers, bricklayers/masons, and painters), the share of builders reporting shortages in February 2024 was 52% for labor directly employed and 51% for subcontractors. The two numbers have not always been this close. After 2012, as housing markets started to recover from the Great Recession, a 5- to 7-point gap opened up between the 9-trade average shortage of subcontractors and labor directly employed by builders, with the subcontractor shortages being consistently more widespread. NAHB’s analysis at the time indicated that workers who were laid off and started their own trade contracting businesses during the Great Recession started returning to work for larger companies—improving the availability of workers directly employed by builders while shrinking the pool of available subcontractors. After persisting for a decade, the subcontractor-direct labor gap finally narrowed in 2023 and disappeared entirely in 2024. The current 9-trade average shortage of 52% for labor directly employed is down from 58% in 2023 and a record-high 77% in 2021 but remains elevated in historical perspective—especially when considered relative to housing starts. During the boom period of 2004-2006, total housing starts were consistently over 1.8 million annually—as high as 2.0 million in 2005. Despite this high rate of construction, the 9-trade shortage percentage never exceeded 45% during the boom. In comparison, the current shortage percentage of 52% occurred against a backdrop of 1.4 million starts in 2023 and an annual rate of 1.3 million recorded so far in January of 2024. ‹ Existing Home Sales Jump in JanuaryTags: carpenters, economics, hmi, home building, housing, Housing Market Index, labor, labor market, labor shortage, subcontractors

Labor Shortages Ease, But Remain Worse Than in the Last Boom2024-02-23T13:18:30-06:00

Residential Building Wages Continue to Increase


By Jing Fu on January 8, 2024 • The year-over-year (YOY) growth rate for residential building worker wages decelerated to 0.6% in June 2023. Over the past five months, wage growth accelerated moderately and reached 4.0% in November. Overall, average hourly earnings for residential building workers* increased at a relatively slower pace in the past year, compared to the peak rate of 8% in October 2021. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, average hourly earnings (AHE) for residential building workers was $30.71 per hour in November 2023, increasing 4.0% from $29.52 per hour a year ago. This was 14.1% higher than the manufacturing’s average hourly earnings of $26.91 per hour, 8.9% higher than transportation and warehousing ($28.19 per hour), and 12.0% lower than mining and logging ($34.91 per hour). Wage growth has been below 4.0% in the past twelve months. November’s acceleration in wage growth reflects an imbalance in the construction labor market. Demand for construction labor remained strong. Indeed, the construction labor market moved in the opposite direction of the overall economy. As mentioned in the latest JOLTS blog, the number of open construction jobs rose to 459,000 in November, as the count of total job openings for the economy declined to 8.8 million. Note: * Data used in this post relate to production and nonsupervisory workers in the residential building industry. This group accounts for approximately two-thirds of the total employment of the residential building industry. ‹ Solid Job Growth in 2023Tags: average hourly earnings, labor market, residential building, wages

Residential Building Wages Continue to Increase2024-01-08T10:15:54-06:00

Construction Job Openings Rise as Total Economy Count Falls


Due to tightened monetary policy, the count of total job openings for the economy continues to move slower. This is consistent with a cooling economy that is a positive sign for future inflation readings. In November, the number of open jobs for the economy declined to 8.8 million. This is notably lower than the 10.8 million reported a year ago. NAHB estimates indicate that this number must fall back below 8 million for the Federal Reserve to feel more comfortable about labor market conditions and their potential impacts on inflation. While the Fed intends for higher interest rates to have an impact on the demand-side of the economy, the ultimate solution for the labor shortage will not be found by slowing worker demand, but by recruiting, training and retaining skilled workers. This is where the risk of a monetary policy mistake can arise. Good news for the labor market does not automatically imply bad news for inflation. The construction labor market moved in the opposite direction of the overall economy, with the number of open construction jobs rising. The count of open construction jobs increased to 459,000 in November after a revised reading of 416,000 in October. The count was 348,000 a year ago, during a period of housing market cooling. The recent rise indicates an ongoing skilled labor shortage for the construction sector. These estimates come after a data series high of 488,000 in December 2022. The construction job openings rate increased to 5.4% November. The recent gains for construction job openings reflect the ongoing skilled labor shortage. The housing market remains underbuilt and requires additional labor, lots, and lumber and building materials to add inventory. Hiring in the construction sector decreased to a 4.5% rate in November after 4.7% in October. The post-virus peak rate of hiring occurred in May 2020 (10.4%) as a post-covid rebound took hold in home building and remodeling. Construction sector layoffs were steady at a 2.1% rate in November after 2% in October. In April 2020, the layoff rate was 10.8%. Since that time, the sector layoff rate has been below 3%, with the exception of February 2021 due to weather effects and March 2023 due to some market churn. Looking forward, attracting skilled labor will remain a key objective for construction firms in the coming years. While a slowing housing market will take some pressure off tight labor markets, the long-term labor challenge will persist beyond the ongoing macro slowdown. ‹ November Gains for Private Residential Construction SpendingTags: economics, home building, housing, JOLTS, labor market

Construction Job Openings Rise as Total Economy Count Falls2024-01-03T10:22:06-06:00

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