Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Arizona's New Housing Crisis: No Workers

Construction workers pass a bundle of shingles on the roof of a home in Phoenix
Construction workers pass a bundle of shingles on the roof of a home in PhoenixPhotograph by Joshua Lott/Bloomberg

There’s a whiff of 2005 in the Arizona air. While D.J. Hughes hunts for carpenters to join his team at a Phoenix-area house-framing company, competitors are tracking down his workers at building sites and offering them more money. “Everybody is trying to pull crews from everyone,” says Hughes, a project manager for J.L. Baugh Construction in Gold Canyon, Ariz., who admits to attempted talent raids on rivals. “I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century, and this is the biggest shortage of skilled laborers I’ve ever seen.”

Cash-wielding investors are driving demand as they snap up properties, and Arizona’s builders are having trouble finding skilled crews. Building permits are at an almost four-year high, creating a dearth of framers, roofers, and masons, many of whom moved elsewhere when work dried up. Laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration added to the shortage by pushing seasoned hands out of state. After declining by more than half since 2006, construction jobs, a category that includes residential, commercial, and government projects, jumped 9.3 percent in May from a year earlier, to 120,300, according to Arizona’s employment statistics office. Nationally, construction employment rose 0.4 percent. The average hourly wage for construction workers in Arizona increased to $20.72 from $19.53 a year earlier.