The construction industry continued to add jobs in June, keeping up with its average monthly gain over the past year, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Total construction jobs increased by more than 21,000 last month, the data show.
Across all industries, an increase of 224,000 jobs left unemployment steady at 3.7%.
[Related: Builders, embrace change to increase profitability]
Specialty trades, particularly nonresidential trades, enjoyed the most job growth. BLS data show nonresidential trade jobs increased by almost 12,000, compared with 1,400 residential trade jobs.
Building construction jobs increased by more than 6,000, with residential construction accounting for three-quarters of that.
Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders and Contractors, noted that the new employment numbers are an indication that “the economy is not slowing nearly as quickly as data suggested earlier this year.”
“With the U.S. economy now in the midst of its lengthiest expansion in history and many economists predicting a recession in 2020 or 2021, construction firm leaders are searching for any indication that the current economic and construction spending growth cycles are nearing the end,” Basu said in a statement. “That said, today’s employment numbers suggest the economy will retain plenty of momentum into 2020.”
Average hourly wages continued to increase, rising to $30.73 in June from $30.69 the previous month. That’s up from $29.79 a year ago. Average weekly hours increased as well, with the construction industry logging an average 39.3 hours worked in June, up slightly from 39.1 hours in April and May.
ABC’s Basu noted that with labor still a primary concern for construction firm leaders, compensation growth is likely to increase.
Average hourly wages are more than 10% higher than the total private-sector average of $27.90, the Associated General Contractors of America noted in a statement.
“Construction firms continue to go to great lengths to recruit and retain workers during one of the tightest labor markets many of them have ever experienced,” AGC’s Chief Executive Officer Stephen Sandherr said in a statement.
He pointed to the lack of a vocational and technical education opportunities as a serious obstacle in filling the construction labor pipeline.
[Related: With looming labor shortages, new legislation aims to bring shop class back to school]
“Making matters worse, relatively few school districts offer the kind of career and technical education programs that signal to students that they should explore careers in high-paying fields like construction,” Sandherr said.
AGC believes lawmakers could better support the construction industry in two ways: increasing funding for those kinds of educational programs in schools, and making it easier for foreign workers with construction skills to legally enter the country.
“The nation’s education system continues to produce too many overqualified baristas and not enough qualified bricklayers and other craft construction professionals” Sandherr said. “As a result of these educational imbalances, too many young adults are struggling to pay off college debts while too many construction firms are struggling to fill job positions that pay well and don’t require costly degrees.”
In June, AGC issued a statement praising the House of Representatives for passing the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would cancel deportations for immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors and grant permanent resident status for 10 years, provided they meet certain eligibility requirements. The bill is awaiting Senate approval, and AGC called on senators to pass the bill.
“We urge Senators to also act to protect workers in the country under the TPS and Dreamers programs either in a stand-alone measure or as part of broader, and much-needed, reforms to our immigration system. Failure to act will remove tens of thousands of men and women from the domestic construction workforce at a time when a vast majority of contractors report difficulty finding qualified workers to hire,” AGC wrote in the statement.