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Construction Employment Declines, Also Expands

Construction employment declined by 1,000 jobs in March but is still up by 282,000 compared to the prior year, as the sector's unemployment rate fell to 9.5 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Association officials noted that declining demand for residential and public sector projects offset gains in other areas to contribute to the overall month job losses.

“After 14 months of steady job gains, construction employment suffered in March,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “Except for multifamily construction, home building remains weak and government officials just can’t seem to find a way to pay for needed repairs to a host of aging facilities.”

Construction employment actually expanded in 278 metro areas, declined in 36 and was stagnant in 44 between February 2014 and February 2015, according to an AGC analysis of federal employment data. Association officials said the job gains come as private sector demand, particularly for multi-family housing, offset declining public-sector investments, labor shortages and the challenges of a slowing global economy and declining oil prices.

“Construction firms continue to add new jobs at a pretty steady clip in most parts of the country,” said Simonson, noting that the share of metro areas with construction employment gains was the highest since 2006. “The question is whether declining oil prices, global economic challenges, labor shortages and Washington gridlock will undermine future job gains in the sector.”

Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas added the largest number of construction jobs in the past year (12,800 jobs, 11 percent), followed by Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. (11,600 jobs, 14 percent), Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (10,100 jobs, 14 percent) and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (8,900 jobs, 5 percent). The largest percentage gains occurred in Wenatchee, Wash. (38 percent, 600 jobs), Lake Charles, La. (29 percent, 3,700 jobs), Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas (27 percent, 4,700 jobs), Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J. (25 percent, 1,000 jobs) and Bay City, Mich. (25 percent, 200 jobs).

The largest job losses from February 2014 to February 2015 were in New Orleans-Metairie, La. (-2,700 jobs, -9 percent), followed by Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, Miss. (-1,900 jobs, -18 percent), Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio (-1,700 jobs, -6 percent), and Gary, Ind. (-1,200 jobs, -8 percent). The largest percentage decline for the past year was in Monroe, Mich. (-23 percent, -700 jobs) followed by Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va.-Ohio (-19 percent, -400 jobs), Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, Miss. and El Centro, Calif. (-17 percent, -500 jobs).

Association officials welcomed the job gains but cautioned that a number of emerging challenges could impact future employment increases. They added that while the global economic slowdown and fluctuating oil prices were difficult to control, workforce shortages and declining public-sector investments are challenges that can be addressed. The association outlined measures to improve the supply of qualified construction workers in its Workforce Development Plan, and is using its #DriveBetterRoads campaign to push for more public-sector infrastructure investments, for example.

“There are steps the industry and public sector officials can take to help improve the supply of qualified workers and increase public-sector demand for construction,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “A number of these measures, however, require Congress and the Obama administration to work together, make some difficult choices and provide leadership; things that have all been in short supply in Washington for too long.”