Construction employment climbed by 19,000 jobs between February and March, while spending on construction projects rose for the 12th month in a row in February, according to an analysis of government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association leaders warned that further gains may stall unless the supply of workers and materials improves. They urged officials to end tariffs on key materials and broaden training and education opportunities for construction careers.
“Construction is contributing significantly to the expansion of employment and the overall economy,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But the sector is facing growing challenges in terms of filling job openings, obtaining materials, and keeping up with soaring wages and prices.”
Industry employment totaled 7,628,000 in March, topping the pre-pandemic peak set in February 2020 for the first time. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 7,600 employees in March, and the sector’s employment exceeded the February 2020 level by 161,000 or 5.4 percent. Employment increased by 11,300 for the month among nonresidential firms--building, specialty trade, and heavy and civil engineering construction contractors--but remained 157,000 or 3.4 percent shy of the February 2020 mark.
Despite the recent employment increases, construction job openings at the end of February totaled 364,000, the largest February total, by far, in the 22-year history of that series, Simonson pointed out. Openings exceeded the 342,000 workers hired in February, implying that contractors wanted to hire more than twice as many workers as they were able to, he added.
Construction spending increased for the 12th consecutive month in February to $1.70 trillion, a rise of 0.5 percent for the month and 11.2 percent year-over-year. All three major subsectors posted year-over-year increases. Private residential construction rose 1.1 percent in February and 16.6 percent over 12 months. Private nonresidential spending edged up 0.2 percent for the month and 9.7 percent since February 2021. Public construction rose 1.5 percent from a year earlier despite slipping 0.4 percent from January to February.
Association officials said the industry will need to obtain materials on a more timely basis and hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers in order to execute projects that will soon be funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, on top of the continuing demand for homebuilding and private nonresidential structures. Officials urged Congress and the Biden administration to end lumber, steel, and other tariffs, increase funds for career and technical education, and support a wider range of apprenticeship and training opportunities.
“Contractors are doing their part to add employees and complete projects,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “But there won’t be enough materials or workers to go around if officials in Washington fail to allow more goods into the U.S. and prepare more jobseekers for these opportunities.”