Construction’s workforce plunged by 975,000 in April—the steepest drop since at least the late 1930s—and the industry’s jobless rate soared to 16.6%, quantifying the first full month’s impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest monthly U.S. employment report, released on May 8, painted a grim picture, showing that construction’s total workforce fell in April by 13% from the March level.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement, "Without new federal help, it is hard to see a scenario where the construction industry will be able to recover any time soon."
In particular, AGC is seeking increased funding for infrastructure and changes in federal guidance for the Paycheck Protection loan program, which aims to help small businesses and has been popular among construction industry firms. But AGC has been seeking changes in new federal guidance that deal with eligibility for the loans, which are forgivable if recipients use the proceeds only for certain expenses, mostly for payroll.
The BLS report is based on data as of mid-April and thus does not reflect the impact of postponments or reopenings of construction projects in various states since that time.
Construction economists say the 975,000 jobs lost is most severe one-month drop ever.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement that the April job losses far exceeded the worst month in the Great Recession—March 2009—when the industry shed 155,000 jobs.
All sectors of the industry were hurt last month. The specialty trades contractors segment was hardest hit, losing 690,500 jobs.
The buildings construction workforce dropped by 206,100 and heavy-civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, lost 78,900 jobs.
Architectural and engineering services, which BLS categorizes separately from construction, lost 85,200 jobs during the month.
For the 12 months ended April 30, construction employment decreased by 11.2%.
Construction’s April unemployment rate jumped to 16.6% from March’s 6.9% and climbed even more sharply from the year-earlier 4.7%.
The BLS industry rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations.
Basu said the near-term outlook is poor. He said that based on data such as business-confidence indicators and unemployment claims, "May will represent another month of crushing construction employment loss."
He added, "Project postponements and cancellations are now commonplace, with construction backlog failing to be the protective shield that it normally is during the early stages of economy-wide recession."