Construction posted upbeat employment results in March as its jobless rate dropped to 5.2% from February’s 6.2% and was a striking improvement from the year-earlier level of 7.4%, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The latest monthly BLS report on the U.S. employment picture, released on April 5, also showed that construction gained 16,000 jobs in March, recouping nearly two-thirds of the 25,000 positions the industry lost in February, according to the bureau’s revised figures.
The March jobs total is preliminary; BLS sometimes adjusts the number in succeeding months, as it did for the February figure.
The BLS unemployment rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal differences. Construction’s rates tend to worsen in the winter months and start to improve in the spring, as weather moderates.
Construction’s workforce totaled 7.45 million in March, up 246,000, or 3.4%, from the year-earlier level, BLS reported.
All but one construction segment recorded increased jobs in March. Residential specialty trade contractors led the way, with a pickup of 7,500, followed by nonresidential specialty trade firms, which added 5,500.
The nonresidential building companies category was the only one recording a decline, shedding 2,900 jobs.
Architectural and engineering services, a separate BLS industry classification, added 6,300 jobs last month.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement, "Construction employment rebounded in March, indicating that the dip in February was probably related to extreme weather conditions and not the beginning of a slump."
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, agreed that the February construction job losses were "an aberration." He added in a statement that "the solid gains in several nonresidential construction segments...indicates that the level of construction activity remains robust as we approach spring."
In another labor-related indicator, construction’s wages averaged $30.45 per hour in March, up five cents from February and a 3.3% gain over March 2018’s level. Simonson observed that construction's average March wage was almost 10% above the $27.70 figure for all private industries.
AGC continues to point out that contractors are having difficulties finding enough skilled workers. As evidence, Simonson noted that the BLS report said the average construction work week was 39.9 hours in March, the highest level for that month in 14 years. If construction crews are short-handed, they tend to work longer hours, AGC said.
Story updated on 4/5/2019 with comments, analysis from Associated Builders and Contractors and Associated General Contractors of America economists.