Seasonally adjusted construction industry employment slipped in June to the lowest total since July 1996 while the industry’s unemployment rate remained at 20.1 percent, more than double the average for all workers, according to analysis of new federal figures by the Associated General Contractors of America.
“The recession may have ended a year ago for most of the economy, but for construction, job losses and business closures continue every month,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the construction trade association.
“While the rest of the economy added nearly a million jobs in the first half of 2010, 114,000 construction workers lost theirs, joining the two million others who have become unemployed since August 2006,” Simonson observed. The industry added 49,000 jobs in March and April as homebuilders and highway contractors geared up, but 30,000 jobs disappeared in May and 22,000 in June as housing cooled and nonresidential building slumped further.
The outlook for nonresidential building construction remains ominous, according to Simonson. In May, the latest month for which such data is available, architectural firms laid off workers for the 21st time in 22 months.
“If there’s less work for architects now, there will be less for building contractors to bid on and build in coming months,” Simonson remarked. In contrast, engineering and drafting firms, which design infrastructure projects, added jobs three months in a row through May.”
Heavy and civil engineering construction—the category that covers most workers in transportation, power, water and wastewater construction—added 1,300 workers in June and has held roughly steady since last October, as federal stimulus funds have boosted construction in these categories, Simonson noted.
“The stimulus has helped,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the association, “but any gains the industry experienced will evaporate unless Congress and the Administration promptly enact long-term spending bills for transportation, water, wastewater, rivers and harbors.”
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