The National Association of Home Builders estimates the surge in lumber prices is adding about $36,000 to the cost of a new single-family home. That’s more than half the median household income …
The National Association of Home Builders estimates the surge in lumber prices is adding about $36,000 to the cost of a new single-family home. That’s more than half the median household income in 2019.
There are a few forces at play creating this problem, but much of it is the unintended consequences of regulatory good intentions.
In simplest terms, the reason lumber is so costly today is a simple matter of supply and demand. People want more lumber than is available. However, if we look at why supply can’t quite catch up to demand, we find the federal government’s fingerprints all over it.
The Commerce Department announced earlier this month that it was pursuing “anti-dumping tariffs” on Canadian lumber. These tariffs are intended to level the playing field for domestic producers by negating competition from subsidized imports. Like with all actions the government takes, if you measure them by their intentions, it looks pretty good. The actual results, however, may not be so rosy.
Lumber is absurdly expensive right now, so keeping lower priced lumber from entering the market means consumers will pay the price. While domestic lumber producers lobby hard for these tariffs and argue they protect American jobs, the unintended consequence is to make homeownership further out of reach for more Americans. We all pay a lot for those jobs.
Biden’s actions follow on the heels of the Trump administration’s own regulations. In 2017, Trump slapped tariffs on Canadian lumber. Subsequently, consumer prices jumped considerably. Trump did take note of the price increase and cut the lumber tariffs in December by a little more than half. Critics of the tariffs pointed out they would result in higher consumer prices, so cutting them by half is a failure to fully acknowledge that, whatever the stated benefits of tariffs, American consumers ultimately bear the costs.
Besides the impact tariffs are having on consumer prices, the government response to the COVID pandemic closed down sawmills — and they’ve been slow to reopen. Like all businesses, sawmills are having trouble finding people willing to work, a problem due in part to generous federal unemployment benefits. There are plenty of jobs for those who want them, but when you pay people not to work, you unsurprisingly disincentivize job searches.
The sawmills are just one step in the supply chain. Logging companies have the same issues finding employees, as do the trucking companies that bring the raw materials to the mills and the lumber to the warehouses and retail stores. All these employers are having trouble filling positions.
Fortunately, 25 states have decided to stop offering the extra federal unemployment benefits, with Wyoming ending the additional payments this week. This is one situation where states can address a problem that the federal government created — again, with good intentions.
The problem of increased costs isn’t limited to lumber. Trump passed tariffs on steel and semiconductors, all to stave off competition from cheap imports. These tariffs drive up consumer prices and are partly the cause of inflation.
Across the board, the federal government is making everything more expensive. Regardless of any stated intentions of these regulations, that is their ultimate outcome. It would seem a certain well-known road is actually paved with federal regulations.