Construction recorded strong employment results in May, adding 36,000 jobs and posting its lowest monthly unemployment rate since September 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
But a construction economist says the latest BLS employment report, released on June 3, along with other data, indicates a persisting shortage of experienced construction workers.
Construction’s May job gains spanned all industry sectors. The residential specialty trade contractor segment was the leader, adding 11,700 jobs.
Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, gained 11,300 positions, while the number of residential building jobs rose by 5,000.
Nonresidential building showed the most modest result, adding 2,400 jobs.
The industry's May unemployment rate declined to 3.8% from April’s 4.6%. It also was much improved from the May 2021 level of 6.7%.
The industry’s 3.8% rate was the lowest since September 2019’s mark of 3.2%.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement, "It is encouraging that contractors were able to add workers in May, but they will need many more to meet the increasing demand for infrastructure and private nonresidential projects."
Simonson added, "Despite steeply rising pay for hourly workers, job openings in construction hit an all-time high at the end of April, while the industry's low unemployment rate suggests experienced workers are scarce."
He noted that average hourly pay for the category that includes construction craft workers rose by 6.3% in May from the year-earlier level—the largest increase since December 1982.
But construction faces tough competition from other industries for workers--the wage increases for the private sector overall were even higher, at 6.5%.
Simonson also points to other government data not contained in the June 3 BLS report that show that the number of construction job openings soared by 40%, year over year, to 494,000, as of the end of April. He says that figure is the largest monthly total since 2000.
Overall, the U.S. economy added 390,000 jobs in May and the national unemployment rate was 3.6%, unchanged from April's level, BLS reported.
The BLS jobs figures are not adjusted for seasonal swings; the bureau's unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.
Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement, "If we look at a single data point, it appears that the nation is entering a period of slower job growth."
Basu added, "Many will view today's somewhat weaker [overall] jobs report as bad news, but for contractors, this may turn out to be highly positive."
If the Federal Reserve decides to moderate boosts in interest rates, he said, that would hold down increases in the cost of capital, which in turn would help support continued demand for construction.