Houston’s Labor Shortage

Last week, the Chronicle ran a story on the dearth of construction workers in the Houston area. The article claimed two causes: a decline in wages and a lack of unionization. The solution, according to the article, is for construction companies to raise wages and work with the unions.

Yet, that very same article notes that wages have been rising:

Part of the goal for the industry is to increase the labor supply so that wages stop escalating as quickly as they have been recently. “We’re losing money as contractors, because the wages have skyrocketed so fast that we can’t keep up with it in the bid process,” said Paul McCurdy, president of City Masonry in Tomball.

Apparently, construction companies didn’t need the paper’s advice on raising wages. They did it as a matter of self-interest. And that brings us to the paper’s suggestion that construction companies work with the unions.

Contractors don’t want increased unionization because of the rules and regulations that unions negotiate as a part of labor contracts. However, contractors admit that the unions provided training programs that were beneficial.

The Chronicle wants government to fill the training void:

The state does have various training grants available. The federal government has been pushing union and non-union apprenticeships, and the schools are doing their best to provide short-term programs that produce people ready to go to work. It’s a good target for public investment: America needs buildings, and construction work isn’t likely to be automated away any time soon. Still, many of those programs require public money and a political commitment to stay in business.

The paper has yet to find a problem, real or imagined, that government can’t fix. “America needs buildings,” the article proclaims, and then concludes that “public money”–i.e., your money–should be spent to make sure the requisite labor is available.

Never mind the fact that construction companies have a vested interest in finding solutions that don’t require robbing taxpayers. Never mind the fact that they are already increasing wages and taking other measures to attract workers. Never mind the fact this is a business problem, and successful businesses solve problems without resorting to government handouts.

The labor shortage did not develop overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight. But contractors will solve it–their livelihood depends on it. They certainly don’t need government meddling in their affairs more than it already does, nor do they need the advice of statist newspaper columnists.

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