Labor market remains tight

Construction firms are still hiring, even as sector’s unemployment rate sits at below 4 percent.

construction workers
Construction employment reached a November record-high of 7.75 million this year, according to AGC.
Photo provided by Adobe Stock.

Construction companies added 20,000 employees in November and are raising wages for hourly workers more steeply than other sectors as the industry’s unemployment rate tumbled according to findings from the Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) after analyzing federal government data for the month.

AGC says the statistics show that construction firms would have added more workers if they could find more people to hire. “It is heartening that both residential and nonresidential construction firms were able to add employees in November,” AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson says.

“The number of job openings continues to outpace hiring, suggesting employers wanted to bring on many more workers than they are able to find," he adds.

Construction employment totaled what AGC says is a record-high 7.75 million in November, an increase of 20,000 for the month and 248,000 (or 3.3 percent) from one year earlier. Nonresidential firms—comprising nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms—added 16,300 employees in November. Residential building and specialty trade contractors together added 3,900 employees.

Pay levels in the construction industry continued to increase in November at a faster pace than in the overall private sector, AGC says. Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers in construction—mostly hourly craft workers—climbed by 6.1 percent, from $31.04 in November 2021 to $32.94 last month. That increase exceeded the 5.8 percent rise in average pay for all private sector production workers. Such workers in construction now earn an average of 17.2 percent more per hour than in the private sector as a whole, according to the trade group.

The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience decreased from 4.7 percent in November 2021 to 3.9 percent last month, tying the 2018 rate for the lowest ever for November. The number of unemployed construction workers fell by 16 percent in one year, from 469,000 in November 2021 to 393,000 in November of 2022.

A separate government report Wednesday showed there were 377,000 job openings in construction at the end of October, which exceeded the number of employees—341,000—hired during that month. The excess of job openings over hires indicated the industry wanted to hire more than twice as many workers as it was able to find in the current low-unemployment environment, Simonson says.

Association officials say they are taking steps to help, including running digital advertising recruiting campaigns and working to increase employee retention rates in the industry. However, the association says from its perspective, too few students are exposed to construction career opportunities in school, with educators encouraging most students to pursue college degrees and office jobs.

“Public officials are missing a great opportunity to put many more people on the path to financial security,” AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr says. “We should be exposing them to careers where they can earn a great living without worrying about unsustainable levels of college debt.”

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