, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As known by RealityChek regulars, there’s abundant evidence that behind most claims of lasting labor shortages by U.S. industries, and the resulting insistence tht more immigration is urgently needed, there’s an industry that’s done almost nothing to improve its productivity. (See, e.g., here.)

In other words, precisely because they’ve been able to rely for so long on an ever expanding supply of cheap labor, these industries have had precious little need to keep costs under control by improving productivity – either by developing labor-saving technologies, or adopting more efficient management practices, or some combination of the two. And the result hurts the entire U.S. economy by retarding progress and knee-capping its best chances of fostering lasting prosperity.

That’s why it was so exciting to read a CNBC.com post yesterday describing the beginnings of a possible productivity-improving technological response to labor shortages (and therefore rising labor costs), by one of the nation’s biggest slacker industries – construction.

Correspondent Diana Olick’s report faithfully presented the residential construction sector’s claim that housing has performed well during the CCP Virus period, but that its potential to keep supporting bady needed growth was endangered by constantly rising costs. And she added that, in addition to building materials becoming ever more expensive, so were workers.

What Olick failed to mention was that housing was a quintessential industry that has long enjoyed the option of compensating by becoming more innovative, but gone down the cheap labor road instead. Indeed, an outsized share of its workforce consists of not only immigrant workers, but illegal aliens. And its labor productivity levels are actually down since 1968 – which is no coincidence.

But the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies may finally be forcing home-builders and other construction companies to start using their collective noggins to control costs. As Olick reports, the industry is starting to use 3-D printing technology “in a big way.” According to executives whose companies are using the new technology, it can cut costs by between 10 percent to 40 percent. And one big reason, in Olick’s words, is that 3D-printed homes require very few workers, as the printer does the bulk of the construction.”

Her post also mentions that 3-D-built homes promise to be sturdier and more energy-efficient than their conventional counterparts, and generate less construction waste, too. And business has been so good that one executive told her “The biggest challenge…is we are supply constrained. We have more people asking for us to build houses than we know what to do with now. Every construction system we have is booked up for the next 24 months.”

In fact, from an economy-wide perspective, the biggest, darkest cloud on the horizon is that President Biden’s Open Borders-friendly immigration policies will flood the labor market with low-skill workers again and take the pressure off the construction industry – and other productivity laggards. That result would richly deserve to be called “Build Back Worse.”