According to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of government employment data,construction employment decreased from February 2020 – the last month before the pandemic – to April 2021 in 107, or 30%, of the nation’s metro areas and was stagnant in another 34. Association officials said construction employment in many parts of the country is being undermined by pandemic-induced project delays, materials price spikes and shortages, and difficulties finding labor.
“It is disturbing to see that nearly one-third of the nation’s metro areas had lower construction employment totals in the mild weather and strongly rebounding economy of April 2021 than in the winter of 2020,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Ever-growing supply-chain bottlenecks and record prices for numerous construction materials threaten to further chill demand for job gains in many metros.”
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, lost the largest number of construction jobs over the 14-month period (-29,300 jobs, -12%), followed by New York City (-22,300 jobs, -14%); Midland, Texas (-9,800 jobs, -26%); Odessa, Texas (-8,000 jobs, -39%); and Lake Charles, La. (7,200 jobs, -36%). Odessa had the largest percentage decline, followed by Lake Charles; Midland; Laredo, Texas (-23%, -7,200 jobs) and Longview, Texas (-23%, -3,400 jobs).
Construction employment was stagnant in 34 additional metro areas, while 217 metro areas — 61% — added construction jobs over the pre-pandemic (February 2020) level. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind. added the most construction jobs over 14 months (7,900 jobs, 15%), followed by Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, Ill. (6,300 jobs, 5%); Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (6,200 jobs, 6%); Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis. (5,900 jobs, 8%); and Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, Calif. (5,300 jobs, 8%).
Sierra Vista-Douglas, Ariz. had the highest percentage increase (44%, 1,100 jobs), followed by Fargo, N.D.-Minn. (34%, 2,500 jobs); Lawrence-Methuen Town Salem, Mass-N.H. (29%, 1,000 jobs); Bay City, Mich. (27%, 300 jobs) and Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, Mass. (22%, 700 jobs).
Association officials called on the Biden administration to address rising materials prices and growing labor shortages. These steps include removing tariffs on key construction materials like steel, lumber and aluminum. And they involve ending unemployment insurance supplements that are providing incentives for qualified workers to stay off payrolls for now.
“Washington has put in place a number of artificial barriers that are holding back the construction industry’s recovery,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Washington’s tariffs are making materials more expensive while its unemployment supplements are making workers more hesitant to return to payrolls.”