Construction Jobs Leap by 60K in February, Nearing Pre-Pandemic Peak – Engineering News-Record

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Construction jobs surged by 60,000 in February, with increases across all sectors and the industry’s unemployment rate improved on a monthly and year-over-year basis, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The latest BLS monthly look at the U.S. employment picture, released on March 4, showed construction’s total employment reached 7,613,000 in February. That is only 11,000 jobs, or less than 1%, below the industry’s pre-pandemic peak of 7,624,000, reached in February 2020.
Among construction sectors, specialty trade contractors recorded the highest February upturn, adding 44,200 positions. Building construction employment increased by 8,900.
Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, was up by 7,300 during the month, BLS data show.
The bureau’s jobs figures for February are preliminary estimates; they often are adjusted upward or downward in the succeeding couple of months.
In fact, in the new report, BLS revised its earlier preliminary construction jobs number for January upward by 30,000 and also raised its December 2021 figure by 18,000.
In a further upbeat note, construction’s unemployment rate declined to 6.7% in February, from January’s 7.1%. The industry’s rate also was much better than the year-earlier level of 9.6%, according to BLS figures.
The bureau’s unemployment rates are not adjusted for seasonal differences; the BLS jobs totals are seasonally adjusted.
Architectural and engineering services—a separate BLS category from construction—also posted upbeat February results, gaining 4,400 jobs. A/E services employment also was up 91,600, or 5.8%, year over year.
Rising employment can be accompanied by higher wages. Construction’s average hourly earnings in February climbed to $33.91, up 5.1% from the year-earlier level, according to BLS data.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, noted that construction’s February jobs increase included a pickup of 29,400 in nonresidential categories. Basu said in a statement, “bottom line, the U.S. economy is charging into the post-pandemic world with significant momentum and residential construction is part of that story.”
Basu also said, “Evidence indicates that contractors have had a somewhat easier time filling available positions recently.” He sees signs of supply-chain improvement, but says “the Ukraine-Russia war may create new issues on that [inflation] front.”
But he still sees “reasons for concern,” including an expectation that overall federal spending will drop in 2022 and high inflation could cause consumer spending to slow down.
For the economy overall, BLS reported a solid February jobs increase of 678,000. The national jobless rate edged down to 3.8%, from January’s 4.0%.
 
AGC Weighs In on New Numbers
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, noted construction’s widespread February jobs gains and also observed that the industry’s average pay for hourly craft workers increased at its fastest rate in nearly four decades.
But in a statement, Simonson added that “filling positions remains a struggle, as pay is rising even faster in other [non-construction] sectors.”
Simonson said that BLS figures for construction “production and nonsupervisory employees,” which in construction generally covers hourly craft workers, rose 6% in the 12 months ended in February. That was the highest rate since December 1982, he said.
Simonson also noted that construction’s average pay of $31.62 per hour for such workers was 17% above the private-sector average. But the wage rate for all private sector workers climbed by 6.7% year over year, outpacing even construction’s steep gains.
Thus, AGC says, construction companies are facing more intense competition for workers from employers in other industries that are offering such incentives as flexible work hours or working from home—conditions that AGC points out are not possible in construction.
AGC also said BLS figures show that the number of unemployed job seekers who have construction experience dropped by 26% over the past 12 months. Simonson said that decrease is another indication that construction companies will have difficulty filling positions with workers who have experience in the industry.
With infrastructure work expected to climb and demand expected to be strong in other segments, AGC is calling on the Biden administration to boost funding for career and technical education and to support a wider array of apprenticeship and training efforts.

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Tom Ichniowski has been writing about the federal government as ENR’s Washington Bureau Chief since the George H.W. Bush administration, and he has covered at least five major highway bills. A recognized expert on government policy on infrastructure and regulation, Tom is also a Baltimore native and Orioles fan who grew up rooting for Brooks and Frank Robinson. He is a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia’s graduate school of journalism, where he once used “unrelentless” in a headline.

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