Construction Employment Declines by 61,000 in February

Construction employment declined by 61,000 in February, while the sector’s unemployment rate soared to 9.6 percent amid severe winter weather and continuing weakness in new nonresidential projects, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of government data released March 5.

“The steep decline in construction employment in February continues a downward trend in nonresidential activity that began before the disruptions caused by last month’s freezes and power losses,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Despite recovery in some parts of the economy, private nonresidential construction is still experiencing many canceled and postponed projects and few new starts.”

Construction employment slumped by 61,000 from January to February, the first overall decline since April 2020. Employment totaled 7,340,000, a decrease of 308,000 or 4.0 percent from the most recent peak in February 2020.

The job loss was concentrated in nonresidential construction, with a decline of 60,800 jobs in February, following a dip of 400 jobs in January. The February 2021 total was 316,000 jobs or 6.8 percent less than a year earlier. Only half the jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic had been regained by February. In the latest month, nonresidential building contractors shed 3,300 jobs and nonresidential specialty trade contractors lost 5,500 workers, while heavy and civil engineering construction firms—the category most likely to be affected by winter storms—lost 20,800 employees.

Residential construction employment – comprising residential building and specialty trade contractors – inched down by 200 jobs in February. But the sector’s employment remained slightly higher than a year ago.

Unemployment in construction soared over the past 12 months. A total of 921,000 former construction workers were unemployed, up from 531,000 a year earlier and the highest for February since 2014. The industry’s unemployment rate in February was 9.6 percent, compared to 5.5 percent in February 2020.

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