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November Construction Unemployment Falls Due to Shrinking Workforce, Modest Job Gains

Employers added 17,000 jobs in November, bringing construction employment to the highest level since August 2009 and the industry unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent. Though the labor force has grown by 3.1 percent during the past year, industry jobs remain nearly 1.9 million off the sector's April 2006 peak.

Construction employment nationwide totaled 5,851,000 in November, an increase of 178,000 from a year earlier, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The new employment figures come as construction spending levels hit a four-year high in October.

"While these new employment figures are very encouraging, growth remains uneven by segment, region and time period," said Ken Simonson, the AGC's chief economist. "There are likely to be continuing variations in growth between homebuilding, private nonresidential and public sector."

While every segment of the construction industry added jobs in November, the heavy and civil engineering firms that are most likely to perform federal construction work added only 200 jobs, the fewest among all industry sectors. Residential specialty trade contractors added 7,100 new jobs in November, nonresidential construction firms added 7,900 new jobs and residential firms added 8,400 jobs.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 12.2 percent in November 2012 to 8.6 percent last month. The number of unemployed construction workers dropped from 988,000 in November 2012 to 706,000 in November 2013, a decline of 282,000, though the industry added only 178,000 new jobs during that timeframe.

Many unemployed construction workers appear to be leaving the sector's workforce, either for jobs in other industries or to retire, Simonson noted. He added that the shrinking pool of available construction workers may be one reason so many firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers.

"Many contractors are wondering if the sector will continue to expand and, if it does, how they are going to find enough qualified workers," said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr. "Investing in infrastructure projects will help the industry continue to grow, while encouraging more secondary students to pursue career and technical training will help make sure those new jobs get filled."

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October 17, 2019, 6:23 am PDT

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