After nine straight months of job growth, more Americans are working in construction than at any time in the last three and a half years, a new report shows.
And with 48,000 jobs added in February alone, that progress should hold through the rest of 2013, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America.
Still, the construction industry remains shaky and has a long way to go to recapture its pre-recession numbers, warns the association.
High on the list of recovery threats is a potential government shutdown later this month over a federal budget impasse, AGC said.
'The Right Direction'
However, February's employment gains were the largest for a single month and marked the ninth consecutive month of growth—evidence of "steady improvement in construction hiring" that AGC's chief economist called "particularly encouraging."
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Single- and multifamily homebuilding have been on the rise for several months—growth that should continue if the government can reach a budget deal.
“The job gains are coming from every part of the construction industry," said economist Ken Simonson, "and while the sector’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, it is heading in the right direction.”
Both single-family and multifamily homebuilding "have been accelerating for several months and should continue to add jobs in the near future,” Simonson said.
“On the private nonresidential side, there will likely be strong growth in power and energy-related projects, manufacturing and distribution facilities and private college construction."
On the other hand, Simonson warned, public construction "remains weak.”
By the Numbers
U.S. construction firms employed 5.78 million people in February, a gain of 48,000 from January and 140,000 (or 2.5 percent) from a year ago, AGC reported.
Nonresidential construction is adding jobs, but the public sector remains weak.
Both residential and nonresidential construction added jobs for the month and year. Residential construction (building and specialty trade contractors) added 19,400 jobs in February and 64,200 (3.1 percent) over 12 months.
Nonresidential construction (building, specialty trade, and heavy and civil engineering construction) expanded by 29,000 employees in February and 75,700 (2.1 percent) over the year-ago level.
The industry unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted and thus is typically high in February, fell from 17.1 percent in February 2012 to 15.7 percent last month.
The federal government is currently operating under a Continuing Appropriations Resolution that was approved Sept. 28 and is set to expire March 27. The House of Representatives voted March 6 to approve a $982 billion stopgap spending measure that would fund the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year.
The Senate is taking up its own version of a spending bill this week.
For the construction industry, tens of billions of dollars in federal infrastructure and construction spending hang in the balance, according to AGC, which represents more than 33,000 firms, including 7,500 leading general contractors.
Interruptions or stoppages on those projects could seriously damage the industry's recent progress, officials said.
Even with the recent gains, construction firms currently employ two million fewer people than in 2006, said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr.
“While the new employment figures are encouraging, the construction industry’s recovery remains fragile,” said Sandherr. “Putting billions of dollars worth of construction projects on hold because Washington officials can’t set a budget threatens to undermine the sector’s recovery just as it is starting to heat up.”