Construction adds 28,000 employees and bumps pay 6.1 percent

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North Carolina Construction News staff writer

Construction firms added 28,000 employees in December and continued to raise wages for hourly workers more than other sectors as the industry’s unemployment rate fell to a record low, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America.

Officials said the data backs up a newly survey that found the majority of U.S. contractors are optimistic about demand for most construction types, despite difficulty filling positions.

“There are more people working in construction today than ever before, and those figures are likely to continue to increase,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But as optimistic as contractors are about 2023, they remain worried about their ability find enough workers amid record-low unemployment.”

Construction employment jumped over 7.7 million, seasonally adjusted, in December, an increase of 231,000 or 3.1 percent from 2021. Nonresidential firms—comprising nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms—added 17,900 employees and building and specialty trade contractors together added 9,500 employees.

Pay levels in the construction industry are climbing at a faster rate than in the overall private sector with average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers in construction—mostly hourly craft workers—up 6.1 percent, from $31.25 in December 2021 to $33.15 last month – workers in construction now earn an average of 18.1 percent more per hour than in the private sector.

Simonson noted that the association’s 2023 Construction Hiring & Business Outlook survey, conducted with Sage, found 69 percent of the more than 1,000 responding construction firms expect to add workers in 2023, compared to 11 percent that expect a decrease. However, 80 percent of firms report challenges filling positions, and only 8 percent that report no difficulty.

“Considering where federal officials put their money, it is no surprise that contractors are having a hard time finding workers to hire,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “As much as they talk about rebuilding our economy, federal officials still don’t seem ready to invest in the people needed to do all that building.”

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