Construction employment experienced an increase for the tenth month in a row in March, as the sector added 18,000 jobs, according to analysis of federal data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The sector surpassed 5.8 million employees for the first time since September 2009.
“The nearly steady expansion of construction payrolls since hitting bottom in January 2011 brought the industry’s unemployment rate down to 14.7 percent last month, the lowest March rate since 2008,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “Unfortunately, the decline is less a result of the 370,000 construction hires than because more than a million and a half experienced workers have left the industry since its peak by taking other jobs, retiring or leaving the workforce. That makes shortages of skilled workers increasingly likely in high-demand crafts such as pipefitting, welding and some residential activities.”
The 5.802 million construction workers employed in March constituted an increase of 162,000 or 2.9 percent from a year ago and included many, but not all, nonresidential segments as well as residential construction, Simonson noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 14,800 workers in the month and 77,800 (3.8 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors, along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms, boosted employment by 3,000 in March and 84,400 (2.3 percent) since March 2012.
“In contrast to the broad gains in most construction segments, employment in public works construction has been flat or falling,” Simonson said. These counts, which lag the overall industry totals by one month, show a drop of 3,500 employees (1.5 percent) in highway, street and bridge construction from February 2012 to February 2013 and a pickup of only 1,000 (0.7 percent) in water and sewer system construction. At the other extreme, Simonson said, oil and gas pipeline construction employment soared by 16,300 (14.5 percent) and power and communication system construction employment jumped by 14,400 (13.0 percent).