US construction employment increases amid uncertainty

Construction employment in the US increased from May to June in 31 states and the District of Columbia, but the gains may have stalled, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of recently released government employment data and information provided by construction technology firm Procore.


US construction employment data suggest potential job losses coming

Association officials urged officials in Washington to promptly enact funding for infrastructure projects and plug looming state and local budget deficits to head off a new round of job losses as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The widespread job gains in June follow even more universal increases in May,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC. “But the government’s employment snapshot was based on payrolls during the week of June 12. More recent data collected by Procore on hours worked on jobsites suggests employment topped out around mid-June and may have begun to decline.”

Simonson observed that users of Procore’s software record the number of hours worked each week on their construction job sites. Procore reported that job site hours reached a peak of 15.1 million during the week of 7-13 June. Since then, preliminary totals have slipped to 15.0 million during the week of 14-20 June and 14.6 million during the week of 21-27 June.

Procore has been mapping total job site hours in each state since the week of 1 March, around the time of the initial restrictions on businesses in some states. Job site hours have increased in most states as shutdown orders were relaxed and the weather grew more favourable for construction in many locations. Nevertheless, in 12 states Procore users logged fewer job site hours in late June than in early March, Simonson notes.

New York added the most construction jobs from May to June (42,000 jobs or 14.2%). Massachusetts had the largest percentage increase (16.3%, 19,700 construction jobs). Construction employment declined from May to June in 18 states and was unchanged in Alaska. Louisiana lost the most construction jobs (-3,900 jobs, -3.1%). Nevada had the highest percentage loss (-3.5 percent, -3,500 jobs).

From June 2019 to June 2020, construction employment increased in 15 states, decreased in 34 states and D.C., and held steady in Wyoming. Utah added the most construction jobs over the year (10,200 jobs, 9.4%). South Dakota had the largest percentage increase (13.7%, 3,200 jobs). Both states set all-time highs, in records dating to 1990. New York lost the most construction jobs over the year (68,300 jobs, -16.8%). The largest percentage decline occurred in Vermont (-29.4%, -4,500 jobs).

US construction professionals have expressed mixed opinions on the near-term future of construction activity. Notably, in late June, the US Chamber of Commerce reported that 83% of contractors expected their company’s revenue to increase or stay the same over the next year.

According to recent reports, US construction employment rebounded by 464,000 jobs in May, but the total remained 596,000 below the latest peak in February and the industry’s 12.7% unemployment rate was the highest for May since 2012, according to an analysis of government data by the AGC.

Still, association officials warned that recent flare-ups of coronavirus across most states mean there will soon be more project cancellations, forcing contractors to lay off workers again. They urged Congress and the Trump administration to promptly enact new infrastructure funding measures and backfill the massive budget gaps that have opened in state and local government budgets, so that public construction does not decline precipitously.

“Only the federal government has the means to keep infrastructure and other needed public construction on track,” states Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer, AGC. “It would be tragic to miss the opportunity to support the economy, keep thousands of construction employees at work, and invest in much-needed upgrades to roads, transportation facilities, water and sewer systems.”

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