Juan Lopez kept an eye on his son as he toddled on little legs at a small Spanish eatery around the corner from Lopez's house on the border of Kensington and North Philadelphia.
"Sometimes, I still feel like a kid and I haven't grown up," said Lopez, 23, "but when I look at my son, I know I have to keep it moving for him."
Lopez is finishing his final year as a union carpenter apprentice, but even at apprentice pay, work is scarce, Lopez said. He said he has gone from construction site to construction site. Sometimes he gets hired, but mostly not.
DayQuan Reid, 24, now works at McDonald's, partly because he can't get enough work from his father's construction business, where he has been a helper handling plumbing, roofing, and demolition. He'd rather earn his living from music, something related to his college degree in music theory, but that hasn't happened.
"My dad hasn't had actual work for a long time," said Reid, of North Philadelphia.
Construction has traditionally been a job available to the young and the strong, but despite some recent growth, the economy has hammered construction employment.
In 2005, unemployment nationally in construction was 7.6 percent. In 2011, one in six were out of work, an improvement over 2010, when one in five were unemployed. Two million construction jobs have disappeared since the start of the recession.
That's the national picture. Locally, it's equally grim. In 2005, 103,460 people were employed regionally in construction, including 18,100 carpenters. By 2011, the total declined to 81,860, or nearly 21 percent, with the number of carpenters falling to 13,920.
Those statistics come from the U.S. Labor Department. Other numbers add nuance.
Here's one: In 2005, Horsham-based Toll Bros. Inc., one of the nation's largest builders of luxury homes, sold 8,769 houses, collectively worth $5.8 billion.
Six years later, in 2011, the company delivered 2,611 "units," as they are called, sold for $1.48 billion. Assuming the same amount of workers per home, that's just under a third of the number needed six years ago.
Tight credit is still hurting construction, the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group, reported in January. And "the impacts of the stimulus are fading fast," said the group's economist, Kenneth Simonson. His best-case forecast is an increase of 250,000 construction jobs in 2012, but that could easily slip to a deficit of 3,000, depending on the housing market and public spending.
One of six brothers, Lopez has two who want to join him in construction. "I want to be in the union," Lopez said. "I want to get a college degree and work behind the scenes as a contractor."
Like others his age, Reid refuses to give up hope, relying on faith and a reputation for hard work. "You go through struggles in life," said Reid, father of two, who also promotes fashion events.
"My main question to anyone who complains is: What can you do to make your life better? I've been through enough in my life. I try to keep going with my head high. I always praise God first and complain next - except I never complain."
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