“Given the Trump administration’s hostility to Latinos and desire to ramp up deportations, it’s unlikely that what worked in previous disasters will work again”
Austin, TX – As Hurricane Harvey’s destruction and devastation continues across Texas and Louisiana, key elected, community, and thought leaders are looking towards the next step: rebuilding. Daniel Gross of Slate that Trump’s harsh and un-American immigration policies may have an unintended consequence – hampering construction efforts in the aftermath of Harvey.
The massive cleanup, demolition, and construction will require not only financial resources, but an experienced workforce – a workforce typically derived of immigrant workers. Trump’s deportation force and Texas Senate Bill 4, set to go into effect this Friday, target and discriminate against this exact cohort. These policies are set to magnify Harvey’s devastation.
Gross’ piece, “The U.S. Might Not Have Enough Construction Workers to Rebuild Houston After Harvey” is excerpted below or available online
Let’s review. With the U.S. economy having created jobs for a , there are . The unemployment rate is . At the end of June, the , there were a record 6.16 million jobs open in the U.S. (That compares with ) Put another way, it’s harder to find labor in the U.S. right now than at any point in recent history.
But that’s not the whole story. There are particular shortages in the types of trades that get called into action after a disaster. America’s construction labor force has undergone a sea change in the past decade. When the housing bust came, hundreds of thousands of roofers and other skilled and unskilled tradespeople were laid off. Because the recovery was remarkably slow, many went on to find work in different industries. Many construction workers had come to the United States (legally and illegally) from Mexico and Central America to work in the boom years, and in the bust years some of them went home. Others were deported. And in recent years, the flow of new potential workers has slowed down significantly. The result: As the U.S. housing and construction recovery has chugged on, it has become more difficult to hire construction workers. In June, there were some 225,000 open construction jobs in the U.S., up 31 percent from June 2016.
In the aftermath of natural disasters, first responders and recovery crews flood the zone on a temporary basis. But reconstruction, cleanup, and recovery requires many thousands of workers who can stay for many months or more. FEMA Administrator Brock Long that “FEMA is going to be there for years.” Houston will require a surge of employment—tens of thousands of people. It will have to find places for them to live, since so much of the housing stock is damaged. And it will likely have to pay them above-market wages, because it will need to lure them away from existing jobs.
And given the Trump administration’s hostility to Latinos and desire to ramp up deportations, it’s unlikely that what worked in previous disasters will work again. Back in 2007, the Washington Post on a Tulane and University of California, Berkeley, study that found some 100,000 Hispanic workers thronged into the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Katrina, many of them undocumented.
Houston will need a similar migration for it to recover. In 2017, from where will those workers come?