The construction industry lost 29,000 jobs in March and its unemployment rate climbed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, in a report that charts the early economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest monthly BLS employment snapshot, released on April 3, draws on data from early to mid-March, predating the late March surge in overall unemployment claims.
But the report does depict the start of an abrupt reversal for the construction industry, which had posted employment increases in the previous three months, including jumps of more than 40,000 in January and in February.
The BLS report shows that job losses were starting to hit nearly all construction sectors in March. The exception was residential building, which recorded an increase of 2,200.
But otherwise, the news was negative, with nonresidential building and heavy and civil engineering construction each losing more than 10,000 jobs.
The two specialty trade contractors’ categories combined for a loss of 10,200, as well.
The figures are based on a survey from March 8-14.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement, "The March employment data does a better job reflecting market conditions before the pandemic than it does the widespread disruptions that have occurred during the past few weeks."
Simonson pointed to more-recent information from an AGC survey of its members that found that 27% of firms that responded said they have furloughed or laid off workers.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement that it's unclear how much of a factor in construction employment declines are due to project suspensions in some states and how much to "the emergence of recessionary forces."
Basu noted that in past economic downturns, nonresidential construction was "one of the last segments of the economy to enter recession as contractors continue to work down their collective backlog."
But he added that the new focus on social distancing indicates that "nonresidential construction is susceptible to large-scale job losses immediately."
Construction’s unemployment rate for March was 6.9%, up from February’s 5.5% and the year-earlier 5.2%.
BLS rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal differences.
The bureau’s data showed that for the 12 months ended March 31, construction's workforce grew by 162,000 or 2.2%, and the industry's average hourly earnings climbed year over year by 81¢, or 2.7%, to $31.31.
But those two indicators are likely to decline when BLS issues its April employment report, scheduled to be released on May 8.
The overall economy lost a total of 701,000 jobs in March, BLS also reported.
Story updated to include comments from Associated General Contractors.