Construction employment in December remained below levels reached just before the start of the pandemic in more than half the states as firms struggled to find enough workers to hire, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). But the Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw its emergency vaccine mandate for firms that employ 100 or more people will help firms avoid losing workers unwilling to comply with the new measure.

The decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to withdraw its emergency temporary standard requiring workers at firms that employ 100 or more people to be vaccinated or tested weekly comes after the Supreme Court signaled its strong support for legal challenges filed by AGC and other entities against the measure.

The association challenged the rule late last year, noting the measure was unlawful and would do little to boost vaccination rates among construction workers, citing 64% of the construction industry works for firms that employ 99 or fewer people. With nearly 90% of construction firms having difficulty finding workers to hire, the rule would have encouraged vaccine-hesitant workers to move to smaller firms.

From February 2020—the month before the pandemic—to last month, construction employment declined in 26 states, rose in 23 states and D.C., and was flat in Montana. New York lost the most construction jobs over the period (-42,000 jobs or -10.3%), followed by Texas (-30,200 jobs, -3.9%) and California (-22,300 jobs, -2.4%). The largest percentage losses were in Louisiana (-12.6%, -17,200 jobs), Wyoming (-10.9%, -2,500 jobs), and New York.

Utah added the most construction jobs since February 2020 (10,000 jobs, 8.8%), followed by Washington (8,200 jobs, 3.7%) and North Carolina (7,900 jobs, 3.4%). The largest percentage gains were in South Dakota (10.5%, 2,500 jobs), followed by Utah and Idaho (8.2%, 4,500 jobs).

From November to December, construction employment decreased in 16 states, increased in 32 states and D.C., and was flat in Nevada and South Dakota. Florida lost the most jobs (-3,400 jobs, -0.6%), followed by New York (-2,900 jobs, -0.8%) and Pennsylvania (-1,200 jobs, -0.5%).

Texas added the most jobs from November to December (10,400 jobs, 1.4%), followed by Ohio (5,700 jobs, 2.4%) and Missouri (3,700 jobs, 2.9%). West Virginia had the largest percentage gain (4.6%, 1,500 jobs), followed by New Mexico (3.2%, 1,600 jobs) and Louisiana (3.0%, 3,500 jobs).