Construction’s August unemployment rate improved sharply from its July and year-earlier levels, but the industry still lost 3,000 jobs during the month, as losses in the nonresidential area outpaced gains in residential building, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
BLS said in its monthly U.S. employment status report, released on Sept. 3, that construction’s jobless rate fell to 4.6% in August from July’s 6.1%. The August mark also was well below the year-earlier level of 7.6%, the bureau’s data show.
Construction did shed 3,000 jobs in August, however, with all of the losses coming in nonresidential segments.
That jobs figure is a preliminary total and can be adjusted in the next couple of months.
Among construction segments, the steepest decline was in the nonresidential specialty trade contractors category, which lost 9,200 positions in August. Heavy and civil engineering construction, which reflects infrastructure work, recorded a reduction of 8,300 jobs. The nonresidential building workforce also was down, by 2,800 jobs.
By far the strongest segment was residential specialty trade contractors, which added 17,300 jobs.
Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement that the August numbers "show that nonresidential building and infrastructure contractors are having a hard time recovering from the impact of the pandemic on demand for structures."
But Simonson also noted that a new AGC-Autodesk contractor workforce survey showed that a large majority of contractors are still having trouble filling salaried and craft-worker positions. [View ENR 9/2/2021 story on the survey here.]
At Associated Builders and Contractors, whose members concentrate on nonresidential construction, Chief Economist Anirban Basu pointed to "ongoing supply-side bottlenecks" as a key factor behind the construction employment picture.
Basu also said in a statement that the drop in construction's unemployment rate implies that the industry's workforce isn't growing. He added, "This opens up the possibility that labor costs could continue to rise rapidly even if industry momentum softens further."
Richard Branch, Dodge Data & Analytics' chief economist, attributes the loss of construction jobs to "the loss of momentum in construction starts over the last few months."
In comments emailed to ENR on Sept. 7, Branch said, "And while projects entering the early stages of planning are historically high, they are taking longer to move through to groundbreaking, meaning a full recovery for the construction sector will take some time."
Overall, the industry’s August workforce totaled 7,416,000, up 193,000, or 2.7%, from the year-earlier figure, BLS reported. But the August mark still was 232,000 below the pre-pandemic, February 2020 total.
The BLS jobs figures are adjusted for seasonal variations but the unemployment rates aren’t seasonally adjusted.
Overall, the economy gained 235,000 jobs in August—well below the increases in the previous several months—and the unemployment rate edged downward by 0.2 of a percentage point, to 5.2%, BLS said.
Story updated on 9/7/2021 with comments from Dodge Data & Analytics.