New York City's construction industry produced 106,500 jobs in January 2010, it's lowest showing in 58 months, according to a report released by the New York Building Congress. January's numbers brought construction employment down 12% from January 2009 with 121,300 jobs and 16% from January 2008 with 127,500 jobs.
In October 2009, monthly construction employment dropped below 120,000 for the first time since February 2007, and has declined in each month since. These numbers include contractors, skilled laborers and specialty tradesmen. They do not include construction workers who work for government agencies, architects, engineers and other off-site workers.
"In the private sector, this is the lowest point," said Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson. "But public work, which makes up over 60% of construction work, has not fallen that much and is full of question marks. How it goes the next few years, will be the determining point."
"It may get down to 100,000 and it will really get serious if we get below that."
In August 2008, New York City construction industry employment reached a peak of 136,900 jobs. The January numbers represent a drop of 30,000 from the 2008 peak but the actual drop in overall employment is less pronounced because construction employment typically falls during the winter months and spikes in the warmer months. However, an analysis of recent year-over-year numbers provides evidence that the decline is attributable to more than just seasonal factors.
Even in light of the recent announcement of the World Trade Center agreement and reports made by the New York State Department of Labor that overall unemployment rates had dropped to 10.2 percent last month from 10.4 percent in January, some industry experts believe that it's going to get worse before it gets better.
"The construction industry is the last to feel the impact in an economic recession and the last to get out of it," said Lou Coletti, head of Building Trades Employers Association, which represents 1,700 union contractors in the region. "These numbers reflect that."
Average earnings for all New York City construction workers also dropped to an estimated $63,000 in 2009, down from $68,800 in 2008 and $65,800 in 2007 but it was higher than the average earnings of $61,700 in 2006. According to the Building Congress, the drop in wages is explained in part by declines in the use of overtime pay.
"These numbers are troubling since they speak directly to the human impact of the decline in building activity," said Anderson. "As much as possible, we need to ensure that federal stimulus dollars are put to work quickly."