Bringing the Economy Home

Bottom Rung: Construction Jobs Gained And Lost, And Their Place In Idaho’s Economy

This week, StateImpact‘s “Bottom Rung” series is looking at low-wage work in Idaho. We’re asking why the state has an outsized share of minimum wage jobs.

Construction employment was the starting point for the broadcast story that aired this morning. The construction industry suffered especially steep losses in the recession. In Idaho, the number of construction workers remains more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak, even as local home prices regain lost ground and new home building picks up.

Data Source: Idaho Department of Labor

The contraction of an industry that pays relatively high wages but doesn’t require advanced education surely takes a toll on the state. But, as today’s radio story explains, the recent loss of construction jobs doesn’t constitute a “structural change” in Idaho’s workforce. It’s part of a “cyclical change.”

What does that mean, exactly?

The construction boom brought no fundamental reordering of the job types that employ Idahoans; it didn’t bring a lasting shift. Instead, what happened is this: Employment in the industry shot up. Suddenly, more than 7 percent of total Idaho jobs were in construction. Then, post-recession, construction employment returned to its longstanding historical place. Construction jobs now account for about 4.5 percent of total Idaho jobs, only a slight gain compared to 20 years ago.

Steelhead Construction’s Aaron Wright understands all of this at an intuitive level, based on his experience in the industry. He predicts steady growth for his company, and for the construction industry in Idaho, but he believes it will take good business instincts to do well. “I personally think the days of throwing a bid out there and going out and swinging a hammer and it working for you 12 months out of the year are over,” he says. “I think they’re gone.”


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