Construction Employment Gains Buoyed by Residential Growth

Construction job growth slowed dramatically in July.

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The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that construction employment saw slight gains in July, adding 20,000 jobs to the industry. This marks a fairly steep drop-off from more promising numbers in June, when the construction sector added 158,000 jobs nationwide.

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Residential construction and specialty trade construction firms together actually added 24,000 new jobs in July, while non-residential lost 4,000 jobs compared to the month before. Though there has been strong re-growth in the industry since coronavirus-related shutdowns brought things to a near standstill earlier in the year, building and specialty trade firm employment numbers remain four percent lower than their most recent peak in February 2020.

“It is gratifying that the construction industry continued to add jobs in July, but last month’s gains were entirely in residential building and specialty trades,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). “It is likely that many nonresidential jobs are in jeopardy following the completion of emergency projects and ones begun before the pandemic.”

While these signs of slowing growth are concerning, the construction industry as a whole has fared better in recent months than the U.S. economy as a whole. The industry’s unemployment rate in July was 8.9 percent, several notches below the national rate of 10.2 percent. Still, the construction industry’s employment rate in July 2020 was still more than twice what it was in July 2019.

Over the last three months the construction industry has gained back 639,000 jobs, or 59 percent of those lost in the coronavirus-driven recession.