Construction’s employment growth eased modestly in August, adding 16,000 jobs from July’s total, but the industry's workforce still was down by 294,000 from the year-earlier level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The BLS report on U.S. employment, released Sept. 4, also showed that construction’s August unemployment rate reflected a similar picture, improving to 7.6% from July’s 8.9%. But that was more than double the August 2019 rate of 3.6%.
The overall national employment rate declined to 8.4%, from July's 10.2%, but was well above the year-earlier 3.7%. The economy added 1.4 million jobs in the month, BLS reported.
A look at specific construction industry sectors showed a mixed jobs pattern. Residential specialty trade contractors posted by far the best results for August, gaining 24,500 jobs, as housing starts rose.
Nonresidential building added 10,200, but nonresidential specialty trade contractors lost 15,700.
Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, also was down, shedding 5,500 jobs in the month.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors chief economist, said in a statement, "Construction is becoming a tale of two sectors, as homebuilding and limited nonresidential niches thrive but most other private, as well as public, construction shrinks.”
Simonson noted that a recent AGC-Autodesk survey of contractors showed that 60% of reporting companies said a scheduled project had been postponed or canceled, up sharply from 32% of those responding to a survey in June.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement, "Despite the ongoing economic momentum, nonresidential contractors should brace for a challenging year."
Basu said the August decrease in nonresidential construction jobs was caused by "tighter financing conditions, diminished cash flow among property owners, lingering uncertainty, elevated commercial vacancy and project postponements and cancellations."
Architectural and engineering services, a separate BLS industry category from construction, recorded a monthly increase of 14,400. But total A-E employment remained 32,800 below the year-earlier level.
The BLS jobs figures are adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. The unemployment rates aren't seasonally adjusted.
Story corrected on 9/14/2020 to state that the heavy and civil engineering construction sector lost 5,500 jobs in August.