As a construction professional, I read “The Crane Drain” (7/19) with great interest. I found the article flawed, inflammatory, and poorly researched. Annys Shin’s contention that African-American workers do not get jobs because of race is erroneous. Shin’s article fails to consider these simple facts:
1. If immigrant populations are rising, then the labor pool is increasing, while the number of jobs remains the same. It follows that more Asians, Latinos, and Europeans would be hired, while fewer African-Americans would be hired. The ratio should and does reflect the general population. Inversely, if the percentage of African-Americans on the job remained the same, then the new immigrants would be discriminated against.
2. Since the economy has tanked, new construction projects remain scarce. Shin’s article doesn’t even mention the loss of jobs as a whole. Look at this quote from the Washington Post on July 15: “‘We refer to it as a gap in the pipeline,’ said Scott Forrester, principal of Forrester Construction Co. in Rockville. ‘There’s no question a lot of people are seeing less volume of work after what they are finishing up now.’” Employment numbers bolster the idea that a turning point is in the offing for the construction business. The industry lost 1,100 jobs in the Washington area in the past year, leaving the region with 160,000 construction workers in May. But as recently as February, the region was reporting fairly strong gains in construction employment, compared with the same period a year before. But lately, those gains have turned to losses.
3. As jobs become scarce, the “walk-on” applicants looking for work are the least desirable. Superintendents look for candidates who are introduced by another employee, with references, transportation, and tools. Shin’s use of the ex-con wandering from site to site is a great example of whom not to hire. It is each person’s responsibility to realize that as he grows older, he becomes less desirable in the manual-labor trades. He must overcome the realities of slowing down and needing higher wages by increasing his skill set. For example, he might learn estimating or drafting shop drawings, or become a specialty subcontractor.
In conclusion, construction has never been an easy business. Contractors discriminate on the basis of honesty, hard work, and ability. Discriminating on the basis of race might mean that a more skilled candidate gets passed over—which, in terms of building something, makes absolutely no sense! Who can get the job done correctly in the least amount of time? That’s who gets hired.