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AGC Data DIGest: April 27-May 8, 2023

Construction jobs increase, unemployment rate hits new low in April; spending rises in March

Construction employment, seasonally adjusted, totaled 7,903,000 in April, a gain of 15,000 from March and 205,000 (2.7%) year-over-year (y/y), according to AGC’s analysis of data the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) posted on Friday. Residential construction employment (residential building and specialty contractors) rose by 14,200 in April and 57,000 (1.8%) y/y. Nonresidential construction employment (building, specialty trade, and heavy and civil engineering construction firms) rose by 800 for the month and 147,500 (3.3%) y/y. Seasonally adjusted average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in construction (craft and office) rose 6.7% y/y to $33.94 per hour. The “premium” for hourly construction workers rose to 18.6% over the private sector average of $28.62 but remained considerably below the average premium in 2000-2019 of 21.5%. The unemployment rate for workers with construction experience declined from 4.6% in April 2022 to 4.1%, the lowest April rate in the 24-year history of the series. 

Construction spending (not adjusted for inflation) totaled $1.83 trillion in March at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, up 0.3% from the downwardly revised February rate and up 3.8% y/y, the Census Bureau reported on May 1. However, without a deflator, it is impossible to say how much of the y/y gain is in units vs. price. Private residential construction decreased for the 10th-straight month, by 0.2%, with single-family homebuilding down 0.8%, multifamily construction spending up 0.4%, and owner-occupied improvements up 0.3%. Private nonresidential construction spending rose 1.0%. The largest private nonresidential segment (based on the seasonally adjusted March rate)—manufacturing construction—rose 4.6% (including computer/electronic/electrical, up 11%, and chemical and pharmaceutical, up 0.6%). Commercial construction fell 3.1% (consisting of warehouse, unchanged; retail, down 2.7%; and farm, up 0.9%). Power declined 0.3% (with electric power down 0.2% and oil and gas field structures and pipelines down 0.8%). Private office and data center construction increased 0.3%. Public construction spending fell 0.6%. The largest public segment, highway and street construction, dipped 0.1%. Public education climbed 0.7%. Public transportation construction retreated 1.6%.

The Dodge Momentum Index fell 5.1% in April but rose 11% y/y, Dodge Construction Network reported on Friday. The index “is a monthly measure of the initial report for nonresidential building projects in planning, shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year.” The commercial component tumbled 8.0% for the month but climbed 7.0% y/y. The institutional component increased 0.3% for the month and 17% y/y.

There were 355,000 job openings in construction, not seasonally adjusted, at the end of March, a decrease of 92,000 (-21%) y/y from the all-time March high of 447,000 in 2022, BLS reported on Tuesday in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release. Hires for the full month totaled 407,000, an increase of 1,000 (0.2%) y/y. 

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, rose y/y in March in 259 (72%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS posts construction employment data, fell in 60 (17%), and was unchanged in 39, according to an analysis AGC released on Wednesday. (AGC treats as construction-only the totals for metros in which BLS reports combined totals for mining, logging, and construction.) The Dallas-Plano-Irving division added the most jobs (11,300 combined jobs or 7%), followed by Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (8,900 construction jobs, 6%). The largest percentage gains were in Fairbanks, Alaska (20%, 400 construction jobs) and Midland, Texas (18%, 6,100 combined jobs). The largest losses occurred in Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade (-6,800 construction jobs, -9%) and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale division (-6,600 construction jobs, -4%). The largest percentage loss occurred in Lawton, Okla. (-26%, -500 combined jobs). 

Highway contractors are invited to complete AGC’s annual highway work zone safety survey by May 12. Responses will be kept confidential. AGC will use the information from this survey as the main focus of a media and public education campaign we will launch the week before Memorial Day and the traditional start of the summer driving season.

Chief economists Ken Simonson, AGC; Kermit Baker, American Institute of Architects; and Alex Carrick, ConstructConnect will present their views on the construction and design outlook in a webinar on May 9, 2-3:30 pm ET.