LAS VEGAS—The buzz and hammering of construction has returned to this city, which was especially hard hit by the housing bust. The construction workers, however, have not.
At the peak of the boom, Nevada employed 146,000 construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now the state employs only 63,000, a 59 percent decrease—and a two-decade low.
That’s led to some labor shortages, says Nat Hodgson, the executive director of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association. “The actual skilled workers building the houses—it’s a challenge finding them,” he told me. “It’s hard to entice them to come back until we can convince them we’re really going to start growing again.”
It’s not just Nevada. Nationally, construction employment is down 19 percent from its 2007 peak. The decline is particularly stark in areas hard hit by the housing bust. In Arizona, construction employment has fallen 50 percent from its pre-recession peak; in California, employment has dropped 28 percent in the field. In Florida, construction employment is down 40 percent.
Across the country, there are 1.4 million fewer people employed in construction than there were in 2007, data shows. But only 811,000 construction workers actually show up in unemployment-report data. To be sure, there are differences in the way these two data sets are collected that might account for some of the discrepancy, but it raises an interesting question: What happened to all of the construction workers felled during the housing bust?
James J. Mikulich may provide one clue. His family has lived in Nevada for more than a century, prospering in industries that built the region, such as logging and transportation. He was in the tile and marble industry for 25 years, installing floors and interiors in homes and hotels. Then in 2012 he blew out his hip and had to have replacement surgery. While he was rehabilitating his leg, he had a revelation.