Housing Market Labor Shortage Eases

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Contractors work on the foundation of a townhouse under construction at the PulteGroup Inc. Onyx housing development in San Jose, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release housing starts figures on May 16. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

A labor shortage that has hampered the construction industry for most of the housing market’s five-year recovery is showing signs of easing.

The number of open construction jobs fell to a seasonally adjusted 154,000 in May, down from the cyclical high of 238,000 open jobs set in July of last year, according to the most recent Labor Department data.

Job openings as a percentage of total employment were at 2.2%, down from 2.8% the previous month.

Hiring “has been expanding,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. “It’s just not expanding fast enough.”

The monthly data is volatile and the number of open jobs still remains near historic highs.

The lack of workers has been one of the housing industry’s biggest challenges, slowing the construction process for single-family homes and apartments and contributing to a housing shortage.

The decline in open jobs suggests employers are having a slightly easier time finding workers to hire. It could also be partly the result of a slowdown in multifamily construction activity as the apartment market becomes saturated. Developers have been pulling back on starting new projects, although there is still a fairly high volume of projects in later stages of construction.

Mr. Dietz noted the decrease also could be a sign that some builders have put projects on hold.

“You can have job openings fall because some employers have simply given up,” he said. “It can be frustrating when you’ve got low inventory in your market and you’re ready to put up those homes and all of a sudden you don’t have enough workers.”

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