U.S. suffering from shortage of immigrants

Financial Times reports: US builders do not suffer from too many Mexican workers, but too few; they stand to gain from immigration reform, not lose. The joke in Texas is that if Mr Trump really wants to put up a wall between the US and Mexico, he will have to open the border first to find enough workers to finish the job.

Across the US, the construction sector — which contributes 4 per cent to US gross domestic product — is suffering from chronic shortages of workers that are pushing up wages and slowing down activity. Of the 1,358 companies surveyed last year by the Associated General Contractors of America, 86 per cent had trouble filling positions, up three percentage points from 2014. More than seven out of 10 contractors reported difficulty finding carpenters, 60 per cent for electricians and 56 per cent for roofers. In 2014, a builder called Camden Property Trust installed security guards at sites in Denver, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, to prevent competitors from poaching workers.

“I could be twice the size in terms of revenue if we had the flow of labour that we could be training,” says Chad Collins, owner of Bone Dry Roofing in Athens, Georgia. “We are handcuffed by the lack of a willing and skilled work force.”

The impact is particularly dramatic in Dallas. Even as US recession fears grow, the city and its suburbs are thriving as companies such as Toyota, Facebook and JPMorgan Chase build facilities. “There is a workforce issue,” says Keith Post, KPost chief executive. “People are stealing and overpaying [workers].” Steve Little, the company’s president, says labour costs have risen 15 per cent in the past two years.

Homebuilder Bruno Pasquinelli, president and founder of CB JENI Homes in Dallas, says delays are mounting. “It’s very difficult to predict when a house is going to get finished,” he says. “Houses that we used to build in 22 weeks are now taking upwards of 30 and bad ones could be 40.”

The labour shortages are counterintuitive. US construction employment fell from 7.7m to 5.4m during the downturn, and it was assumed there would be plenty of workers once business recovered. But some industry veterans retired. Others headed to the oilfields as the shale boom gathered pace. And many went home to Mexico — creating a problem, given the sector’s dependence on immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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