Construction employment falls 8% in San Francisco since 2020

With building permits down 73% since last year, hard hats are becoming scarce

(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty)
(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty)

The number of construction workers in San Francisco has taken a dive since the pandemic, while hard hats in the East Bay have rebounded.

The region around San Francisco added 300 construction jobs in June, bringing the number of workers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties to 43,000 workers, the San Francisco Business Times reported, citing state employment figures.

That’s nearly 8 percent fewer jobs than the 46,400 construction jobs in February 2020.

At the same time, Alameda and Contra Costa counties added 800 jobs in June for a total of 80,200 construction workers. 

That’s 2.6 percent more construction workers than the 78,100 in August 2019, making June the first month the East Bay has recovered or exceeded its pre-pandemic building labor force.

The East Bay’s construction workforce has remained steadier than San Francisco’s over the last few years, a trend attributed to the decline in construction starts in San Francisco, Asim Khan, senior economist for the city, told the Business Times. 

Construction employment generally declines in winter and picks up in spring.

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Last year, San Francisco issued 2,852 building permits for residential projects compared to 4,918 in 2019. Building permits in Alameda and Contra Costa counties had largely rebounded to  pre-pandemic levels by 2021. 

San Francisco permits issued this year suggest construction employment won’t pick up soon. Between January and June, the city issued 179 building permits, Khan said, compared to 660 during the same period last year.

At the same time, Contra Costa and Alameda have issued 3,200 building permits, down from about 3,500 last year. “Their decline is only 10.3 percent,  while ours is 73 percent,” Khan said.

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That’s likely because of the higher cost of building in San Francisco, but also may be influenced by developer and investor sentiment, zoning regulations and other restrictions, Khan said. 

Last year, housing production in San Francisco plunged by 50 percent, largely because of soaring construction costs and higher interest rates.

Unemployed workers in sectors such as construction and hospitality might find themselves unable to stay in San Francisco, or required to switch their lines of work, leaving those respective industries permanently. 

— Dana Bartholomew

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