Despite an increasing number of federal stimulus projects under way, construction’s unemployment rate rose in September as the industry lost 64,000 more jobs. Industry officials say the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been a help but has not halted construction’s continued huge layoffs.

Stimulus Work Is Up, But So Is Jobless Rate
Note: Rates Are Not Seasonally Adjusted
Source: U.S. Dept. Of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

The industry’s September jobless rate climbed to 17.1%, from 16.5% in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Oct. 2. Construction’s rate remains the highest among industries. The 17.1% mark also was well above the industry’s September 2008 level of 9.9%. Since the recession began in December 2007, construction has shed 1.5 million jobs, though average monthly job losses fell to 66,000 in the May-September period, from 117,000 in the November-April period.

Meanwhile, the number of ARRA-funded highway and transit projects under contract continues to increase, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reports. Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said at an Oct. 1 stimulus hearing that those projects created or preserved about 122,000 “direct, on-project jobs” as of Aug. 31. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the committee, “I think in the construction industry...we have made a huge impact.” He added, “There are a lot people working that, without the recovery program, would not be working.”

Construction economists acknowledge the lift from ARRA but see no positive signals in the latest BLS numbers. Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors’ chief economist, said the stimulus funding “does not appear to be enough to offset the persistent tight credit market and the lack of demand for new retail, lodging, office and other space.”

Stephen E. Sandherr, the Associated General Contractors’ CEO, says ARRA has saved 100,000 construction jobs. “I would hate to see what the industry would look like without it,” he says. Still, he says AGC firms are now in “survival mode.” AGC on Sept. 30 proposed a plan to spark the industry’s hard-hit privately funded sector, which it says accounts for 60% of the total market. The proposal, which would require congressional action, includes implementing tax breaks to spark real estate investment and also removing trade barriers to boost demand for manufacturing and transportation facilities.

8/31/2009 6,472 16.8
7/31/2009 5,173 13.5
6/30/2009 3,553 10.6
5/31/2009 2,294 6.5
4/30/2009 1,099 3.5
3/31/2009 364 1.2
Note: ARRA enacted on 2/17/09
Source: House Transportation and Infrastructure Commitee, based on reports from state DOTs, transit agencies