Construction employment posted an upturn in September, adding 22,000 jobs in the month, with gains in all residential and—more notably—nonresidential sectors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The BLS monthly employment report, released on Oct. 8, also showed that construction's September jobless rate of 4.5% was slightly improved from the previous month’s 4.6% figure, but markedly better than the September 2020 level of 7.1%. Construction's overall unemployment rate for September also marked the third straight monthly decline.

Revised BLS numbers show that construction jobs were flat in August, compared with July’s level.

The increase in nonresidential construction jobs was the first in six months, the Associated General Contractors of America noted.

Nonresidential specialty trade contractors posted the strongest September jobs results, adding 11,400 positions. Nonresidential buildings gained 4,100, and heavy and civil engineering construction was up by 3,100.

Residential categories also recorded an upturn of 3,400 jobs.

BLS jobs figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations but its unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.

Construction Economists' Analyses

Ken Simonson, AGC's chief economist, said in a statement, "While it is refreshing to see job gains in both residential and nonresidential construction, nonresidential building and infrastructure employment remains far below its pre-pandemic peak."

Total September construction employment rose by 191,000, or 2.6% on a year-over-year basis to 7,447,000. But the total still lagged the 7,648,000 level recorded in pre-pandemic February 2020.

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement that a continued construction labor shortage and increased materials shortages "are placing the recovery of nonresidential construction at risk."

Basu said a recent ABC report on industry backlogs showed that many project owners are delaying or canceling projects. "The primary issue," he said, "is that bids are coming in too high to justify the deployment of capital under many circumstances."

Alex Carrick, Construct Connect's chief economist, said that for construction, the "truly eye-catching numbers" in the  BLS report dealt with compensation.

Carrick noted that September's overall construction workers' average weekly earnings climbed 7.2% compared with the year-earlier figure.

In the data for construction production workers, which excludes supervisors, compensation jumped 10.2% from September 2020 levels.

Carrick said those increases indicated that demand for workers' services "led to them spending more time on job sites."

He added that another possible interpretation is that the large number of vacant positions "may have required existing construction work crews to stay 'in the harness' longer.

BLS reported that the overall U.S. economy added 194,000 jobs in September, which was "well below the consensus forecast of 500,000 new jobs," Basu observed.

The national unemployment rate edged down by 0.4% from August's level, to 4.8%, BLS said.

Story updated on 10/10/2021 with comments from ConstructConnect's chief economist.