March construction jobs bounce back after disappointing February

Experts attribute earlier slump to ‘extreme weather,’ ‘anomaly’
Residential building, specialty trades in particular, led job growth in March.

Construction employment was fairly steady in March, adding 16,000 jobs, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the past 12 months, construction jobs have increased by 246,000.

Overall unemployment remained steady at 3.8%, BLS found.

Specialty trade contractors accounted for over 80% of construction job growth, posting an increase of 13,000 jobs, data shows. Jobs in residential trades increased by 7,500.

Residential jobs accounted for all of the growth in building construction. Nonresidential construction jobs fell by 2,900. The increase of 4,700 jobs on residential buildings resulted in a net 1,800 building construction jobs.

Average weekly hours increased slightly from 38.9 in February to 39.4. Average earnings also increased, with hourly wages rising 5 cents to $30.45 in March.

Construction employment suffered a big decline in February. Kim Kennedy, director of forecasting for Dodge Data & Analytics, called the drop “an anomaly.”

“Job growth will inevitably slow this year given the low rate of unemployment (which constrains the supply of workers available to fill expanding job openings) and increasing wages (driven up by labor constraints), but also by conditions that are slowing overall economic growth such as the fading effects from last year’s stimulus–tax cuts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the boost in federal spending that came from passage of the Omnibus spending bill in March 2018,” Kennedy wrote in a blog post.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, attributed February’s decline to “extreme weather conditions and not the beginning of a slump.”

He added that construction jobs have increased at twice the rate of the overall economy: 3.4% since March 2018, compared to 1.7%.

“The average workweek in construction is at a record high for March and the number of unemployed jobseekers with construction experience is at all-time lows,” Simonson added. “These data suggest that contractors are having a hard time finding qualified workers even though the industry pays better than the private sector as a whole.”

Stephen Sandherr, AGC’s chief executive officer, said in a statement that construction business owners are still concerned about finding enough workers to complete jobs.

“The only way to ensure that the construction industry continues to grow is to develop more skilled domestic workers that contractors need and to allow construction firms to seek qualified workers from outside the United States,” he said.

[Read more about changes to the H-2B guest worker visa program on our sister site, Colorado Patio & Landscape.]


Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

Danielle Andrus has 343 posts and counting. See all posts by Danielle Andrus

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