Employment Rebounds After February's Severe Weather


Construction employment rebounded in March by about 110,000, according to an analysis from the Associated General Contractors of America on recently released government data. The climb in March follows a decline in February that was caused in part by severe winter weather.

Despite the encouraging March numbers, the AGC says that projects are still threatened by the rising prices and subsequent erratic delivery schedule of some key construction materials such as wood, steel and aluminum.

“The rebound in March is certainly good news, but contractors face growing challenges that imperil further growth in nonresidential employment,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “In fact, industry job gains in the first quarter of 2021 as a whole have slowed sharply from the second half of 2020.”

Sector employment in March totaled 7.46 million, which is about 2.4% below the most recent peak just before the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020. Over the past three months, the industry has added about 66,000 jobs—compared to the last quarter in 2020, when an average of 76,000 jobs per month were added.

The AGC notes that nonresidential construction remains about 4.9% under the pre-pandemic peak while residential building and specialty trade contractors sit 1.6% above that February 2020 employment level.

AGC officials recommend that Congress act on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure funding recommendations, however, without the tax and regulatory additions. The association is also still calling for the removal of tariffs on construction materials.

“It will take more than nice weather for the construction industry to keep adding jobs this year,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s CEO. “Investing in infrastructure, avoiding needless new regulations and counterproductive tax hikes and fixing the supply chain will help the industry create many more high-paying construction career opportunities over the coming months.”

Previous Numbers

As mentioned, employment plunged in February by about 61,000, and the AGC cited severe weather as the primary driver, as well as continued weakness in new nonresidential projects.

That slump was reportedly the first overall decline since April 2020. Other details include:

  • nonresidential construction had a decline of 60,800 jobs in February, following a dip of 400 jobs in January;
  • the February 2021 total was 316,000 jobs or 6.8% less than a year earlier;
  • only half the jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic had been regained by February;
  • in the latest month, nonresidential building contractors shed 3,300 jobs;
  • nonresidential specialty trade contractors lost 5,500 workers;
  • heavy and civil engineering construction firms—the category most likely to be affected by winter storms—lost 20,800 employees; and
  • even residential construction employment inched down by 200 jobs in February.

Then, later last month, AGC released a year-over-year analysis from January, which found that nearly two-thirds of the nation’s metro areas saw construction employment decrease.

These numbers were anticipated as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the AGC says that employment could continue to decline as contractors grapple with the spike in materials prices.

Construction employment fell in 225, or 63%, of 358 metro areas between January 2020 and January 2021. Industry employment was stagnant in 41 additional metro areas, while only 92 metro areas—26%—added construction jobs during that time period.

Other data points include:

  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas lost the largest number of construction jobs over the 12-month period (-32,900 jobs, -14%);
  • followed by New York City (-23,000 jobs, -15%);
  • Midland, Texas (-11,100 jobs, -29%); and
  • Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, Illinois (-10,400 jobs, -9%).
  • Lake Charles, Louisiana had the largest percentage decline (-40%, -8,100 jobs);
  • followed by Odessa, Texas (-37%, -7,600 jobs); Midland; and
  • Laredo, Texas (-27%, -1,100 jobs).
  • Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, California added the most construction jobs over 12 months (3,500 jobs, 5%);
  • followed by Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana (3,100 jobs, 6%);
  • Boise, Idaho (2,500 jobs, 9%); and
  • Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Washington. (2,100 jobs, 2%).
  • Sierra Vista-Douglas, Ariz. had the highest percentage increase (42%, 1,000 jobs);
  • followed by Bay City, Michigan (18%, 200 jobs); and
  • Auburn-Opelika, Alabama (15%, 400 jobs).

Tagged categories: Associated General Contractors (AGC); COVID-19; Economy; Good Technical Practice; Jobs; NA; North America

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