The construction industry continued its slow, but steady climb from the abyss, adding 17,000 jobs in November to account for its most favorable employment numbers in more than four years, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
Buoyed by the largest spending increase in four years, the construction industry totaled 5,851,000 jobs in November, with the increase of 178,000 from a year earlier dropping the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction from 12.2 percent in November 2012 to 10.3 percent last month. Monthly job gains in the construction industry have averaged 15,000 over the prior 12 months.
But Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Association of General Contractors of America (AGC), remains cautiously optimistic about the latest numbers.
“While these new employment figures are very encouraging, growth remains uneven by segment, region and time period,” he says. “There are likely to be continuing variations in growth between homebuilding, private nonresidential and public sector.”
Nonresidential construction firms added 7,900 new jobs in November while residential firms added 8,400 jobs, according to the latest labor numbers. While every segment of the construction industry added jobs in November, heavy and civil engineering firms – which are most likely to perform federal construction work – added the least amount with only 200 jobs. Residential specialty trade contractors added the most new jobs during the past month with 7,100.
Federal government employment continued to decline, losing 7,000 jobs in November. Over the past 12 months, federal government employment has decreased by 92,000 jobs.
Nevertheless, the nation’s overall unemployment rate dipped to seven percent in November as nonfarm payroll employment rose by 203,000.
Experts, however, have consistently warned that construction labor statistics are a little misleading because so many construction workers left the industry altogether during the recession.
The number of construction jobs remains more than 2 million less than the industry’s April 2006 peak, says Simonson. The number of unemployed construction workers dropped from 988,000 in November 2012 to 706,000 in November 2013, a decline of 282,000, but the industry added only 178,000 new jobs during the same timeframe. Many unemployed construction workers appear to be leaving the sector’s workforce, either for jobs in other industries or to retire, according to Simonson.
Simonson added that the shrinking pool of available construction workers may be one reason so many firms have begun reporting a shortage of qualified workers.