Economy Watch: Construction Employment Rebounds

Job growth in residential construction was robust for the month of September, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors report.
Credit: Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. Construction Economic Update
Credit: Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. Construction Economic Update

Construction industry employment rebounded in September with a gain of 23,000 new jobs, after losing 5,000 jobs in August, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data released on Friday by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). But despite the broader industry gains, the nonresidential construction sector added only 2,700 new jobs for the month, while the residential sector added 15,700. The heavy and civil engineering subsector added 4,300 new jobs after losing 23,200 positions over the previous five-month period.

“Driven by strong multifamily segments and an improving single-family housing market, job growth in residential construction was robust,” noted ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. Nonresidential employment growth was far less impressive, and nonresidential building construction actually declined.

The construction industry unemployment rate edged upward 0.1 percentage points higher in September, coming in at 5.2 percent. (The unemployment rate for all industries rose by the same amount, reaching 5 percent.) The upward movements are probably the result of people feeling optimistic enough to enter the workforce: 444,000 new persons entered the labor force last month alone, and roughly 2.1 million workers did so during the first three quarters of 2016. The last time the labor force grew that much through the first nine months of a year was 2000, near the end of the dotcom bubble.

For operators of construction firms, a rise in the number of workers probably counts as good news, noted Basu. Industry surveys generally report that the lack of skilled labor represents the biggest concern for U.S. construction firms by far.