Saturday, November 27, 2010

Portrait of a San Francisco construction worker: Not Black, Not a Woman, Not a City Resident

Portrait of a San Francisco construction worker

11.11.10 - 2:22 pm | Sarah Phelan

Protesting unemployment
Sarah Phelan

The nation has a black president and a female Secretary of State. But only three percent of San Francisco's construction workforce are black or female.

One of the many fascinating pieces of data to emerge in the discussion about Sup. John Avalos’ proposal to mandate local hiring is a recently published analysis of the characteristics of construction workers whose primary workplace is San Francisco.

In October, L. Luster & Associates published a labor market analysis, using data from EDD payrolls and the U.S. Census American Community Survey, that shows there were 14,629 construction workers employed in San Francisco in June 2010. And that five trades currently dominate this workforce and constitute more than 75 percent of the total numbers of construction workers employed in the city.

Carpenters are the biggest group (4,623 workers) followed by construction laborers (2,796 workers) painters (1,459 workers), electricians (1,119 workers) and plumbers, pipe fitters and steamfitters (1,023 workers).

But while this population shows racial diversity (whites and Latinos each make up about 40 percent of the workforce, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders at 17 percent) African Americans and women each account for only 3 percent of this market. In other words, only 440 African Americans and 405 women were construction workers in June 2010, compared to 5,830 Latinos, 5673 whites, 2,528 Asians and Pacific Islanders.

So, how do these ethnic percentages compare with San Francisco’s overall distribution?
“Latinos make up a considerably larger portion of workforce than they do the overall population (40 percent of construction workforce v. 13 percent of city’s population),” the Luster report states. “ All other major racial categories constitute a smaller portion of the construction workforce than they do of the total population: Whites (39 percent of construction workforce compared to 49 percent of city population overall) followed by Asian and Pacific Islanders (17 percent compared to 28 percent overall) and African Americans (3 percent compared to 6 percent overall.)

(That last statistic should be a shocker: What?! Only six percent of San Francisco's current residents are African American?! But the city produced a report two years that detailed the "black out migration” –but provided little money or authority to help follow through on the report’s various recommendations).

Meanwhile, Luster’s report concludes that, “the main imbalance between the employed construction workforce and the San Francisco population lies with the gender distribution. Women comprise only 3 percent of the 14,629 construction workers in San Francisco, whereas they account for nearly half of the overall population.”

Next up in the Luster report was the question of residency. And according to its findings, only 39 percent of workers employed in San Francisco’s construction industry call the city and county of San Francisco their home.

San Mateo County is home to 18 percent of this workforce, Alameda County accounts for another 17 percent, Contra Costa County is home to 13 percent, Sonoma and Marin each are home to 8 percent, and Napa and Solano County each account for a further 5 percent.

These numbers are significant in a number of ways. For instance, 2, 636 workers commute in from San Mateo, 2,418 from Alameda, 1,929 from Contra Costa, 1,197 from Sonoma and Marin, and 773 workers from Napa and Solano, all of which adds up to wear and tear on roads, impacts on air quality, and increased levels of greenhouse gas generation (depending on whether these workers take public transit, car pool or drive the freeways solo, of course).

It also means that when communities oppose aspects of a local construction project—be it a proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough, or a proposed mega-hospital on Cathedral Hill—they are likely to encounter opposition from a workforce that increasingly lives outside San Francisco, faces a 40 percent unemployment rate, and can be mobilized to show support for these projects, either through showing up physically at meetings or through union dues that can be used to wage political wars with far-reaching percussions for the ability of local residents to influence local land use and economic development decisions.

So, why do so many construction workers live outside San Francisco? The obvious reasons are their relatively low income levels and their related inability to afford housing in the city.
According to Luster’s report, “nearly 33 percent of these workers report earnings of less than $30,000 per year” (based on data that incorporates union and non-union workers, and part-time workers).

Another way of looking at this is to study Luster’s analysis of construction workers who currently live in San Francisco.

“From EDD payroll data and from historic employment relationships between San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties, we estimate there were 7,855 construction workers residing in San Francisco and who were employed as of June 2010—roughly 1 percent of total residents in the city,” Luster reports.

The Luster report also notes that the same five trades make up an even higher proportion of the resident employed construction workforce than they did the total employed construction workforce in the city (86 percent v 75 percent). But now the top two places are reversed: Construction Laborers is the largest trade with 2,442 workers, followed by Carpenters (1,914 workers), Painters (1,122 workers), Electricians (814 workers) and Plumbers (484 workers).

The ethnic distribution of these resident workers is also diverse. Whites (34 percent,) Latinos (31 percent), Asians and Pacific Islanders (30 percent, which is considerably higher than for the overall workforce employed in San Francisco) and African Americans (5 percent).

But women, once again, make up only 3 percent of residents in construction employment.
The Luster report takes the analysis one step further by looking at age distribution. This criterion reveals that the white resident construction workforce is aging, as is the Asian resident construction workforce, though to a lesser extent.

“By contract, the Latino workforce is concentrated among the younger age groups, particularly among the 25-34 age group,” Luster notes. “Of note, 47 percent of the resident San Francisco construction workforce is over the age of 45. Moreover, 23 percent is already 55 years and older. Currently, the number of workers aged 55-64 is 1,544 and declines to 264 for workers aged 65 and older, dropping from 20 percent of the workforce to 3 percent. If construction workers continue to leave the sector in the same proportions by the time they reach 64, a sizeable number of new openings will be created.”

The report, which goes into detailed breakdowns of apprentices (each of the four largest ethnic groups have almost equal shares, and women have 10 percent), the construction trades (which has a greater participation of white workers) and journey people, also gets into workforce projections (the bulk of the jobs generated by the city’s Capital Plan will be generated within the first five years) local hire programs and policy issues. As such, it’s a must-read for those following Avalos’ proposed local hire legislation, and you can view the full report by clicking here.


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