BY KEVIN DUNCAN
Special to The Bee
AUGUST 21, 2017 1:00 PM
No amount of project streamlining can solve California’s housing affordability problem by itself.
To lower prices, California needs to build a lot more housing. But to do that, it needs enough workers with the skills to do so safely and correctly. Prevailing wage standards, which function as a local minimum wage for skilled construction work, can help address these critical needs and improve the industry’s competitiveness in increasingly tight labor markets.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the number of builders reporting “some or serious” labor shortages grew from 21 percent in 2012 to 56 percent in 2016. More workers are choosing not to work in construction because it is no longer the gateway to the middle class.
A recent study by Smart Cities Prevail showed that inflation-adjusted wages for California’s blue-collar construction workers have declined 25 percent since 1990. In some communities, more than half of these workers must rely on housing subsidies, and nearly 40 percent don’t have health insurance. The study also reveals that what were once middle-class incomes are being redistributed into the pockets of developers and builders, whose profits have grown 50 percent faster than either labor or material costs since 1992.
Sadly, there are even more disturbing racial disparities. According to a UCLA analysis, the share of immigrants in California’s construction workforce has grown from 13 percent to 43 percent since 1980. On average, Latinos are being paid just 68 cents for every $1 of their white counterparts. These trends have tracked a growing pattern of illegal wage theft by unscrupulous contractors. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric makes it less likely that workers will speak out against employers who cheat.