First, the bad news: In August Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath created misery throughout the city of Houston and Texas’ Gulf Coast, delivering unprecedented flooding and property damage. Scores of people lost their lives and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed or severely damaged in Houston alone, more than were expected to be built in the city during all of 2017.
Next, the really bad news: Misery along the Texas Gulf Coast was matched or maybe even surpassed a few weeks later when Hurricane Irma laid waste to almost the entire state of Florida, with wind and flood damage in almost every community, and extending further into the southeast region.
Even worse news: almost all buildings on the island of Puerto Rico sustained damage, with many homes rendered unlivable.
Now, a bit of good news: all that damage requires rebuilding. Hundreds of thousands of residential and commercial plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems have to be installed or repaired.
Back to bad news: There are not nearly enough trade workers available to handle it all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were some 225,000 unfilled construction jobs as of June, more than double the amount as of 2012. More than three-quarters of home builders nationwide reported a shortage of help, which was slowing down the rate of home building even before summer’s catastrophic weather events. The National Association of Home Builders estimated a need for at least 20,000 more workers in Houston alone to rebuild homes in the area.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, much of the rebuilding was done by undocumented immigrants. There are not nearly so many of them available now, partly because Mexico’s economy has improved and many workers returned home, and partly because of crackdowns on illegal immigration.
Back to good news: The most basic law of economics says that when shortages arise, prices go up. With trade workers in short supply, wages and benefits will go up, especially for skilled trade workers. Pay scales were already climbing steadily for years before the recent natural disasters. Watch them climb even farther, faster in the months ahead. Reports are already coming in of contractors paying special bonuses and relocation pay to workers willing to travel where needed.
There has never been a better time to explore the trades.