Construction employment started 2019 with a surge of 52,000 jobs in January but the industry’s jobless rate posted mixed results, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The first monthly BLS employment snaphot dealing with the new year, released on Feb. 1, shows that construction’s January unemployment rate rose to 6.4% from December’s 5.1%. But last month’s rate was an improvement from the year-earlier level of 7.3%.
The BLS industry jobless rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations. Construction rates tend to increase in winter months as weather slows the volume of building in some parts of the U.S.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement, "There has been no letup in demand for construction projects —or workers."
AGC noted that construction's total employment was 7,464,000 in January, a 4.7% increase year over year and the highest level since January 2008.
Simonson also said the rate of employment the industry's average workweek length hit a record 39.9 hours and its total unemployment was the lowest since 2006, when BLS began the current data series. He said that indicates that "contractors would hire even more workers if they were available."
Construction’s average wages, another closely watched indicator, increased 2.8% year over year, to $30.19 per week in January.
Nonresidential construction categories gained 28,000 jobs in January, observed the Associated Builders and Contractors, which focuses on that sector of the industry. Anirban Basu, ABC's chief economist, said in a statement, "This comports neatly with elevated backlog and with the notion that a strong economy continues to create fresh opportunities for contractors."
He added that the BLS data indicate that contractors still will have problems finding enough qualified workers. "This strongly suggests that wage and cost pressures facing the industry will persist well into 2019 and likely beyond," Basu said.
Along with the strong jobs increase for January, there was a moderating note: BLS revised its initial preliminary December jobs increase of 38,000 downward, to 28,000, ABC pointed out.
Nearly two-thirds of construction’s January jobs gains came in the specialty trade contractors segment, which added 34,300.
Heavy and civil engineering construction, a sign of infrastructure market trends, posted an increase of 10,200.
Nonresidential building was the only construction sector to record a decline in January, losing 800 jobs.
Architectural and engineering services, which BLS categorizes separately from construction, lost 1,000 jobs in January.