The nation's construction unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in October, which represents a gain of 31,000 workers. There are now 6.43 million construction workers in the U.S., making industry employment the highest since February 2009.
The Associated General Contractors, which tracks these numbers monthly, said the pattern of the industry's recovery this year seems limited more due to a lack of workers, rather than a lack of work.
“The industry continues to recover while the hiring slowdowns it experienced during the summer were prompted more by labor shortages than they were any slump in demand,” said Ken Simonson, the AGC's chief economist. “Construction firms appear to have had an easier time finding workers in October than they did during the summer.”
Construction employment is up by 233,000 jobs compared to a year ago, a 3.8 percent increase. Residential construction increased by 6,000 in October and by 99,100, or 4.2 percent, compared to a year ago. Nonresidential construction employers added 24,900 jobs for the month and 133,800 jobs compared to October 2014, a 4.5 percent increase.
Simonson said the fact that U.S. construction firms were able to expand their headcount by more than 30,000 in October may indicate that more workers are entering the construction labor market as firms focus on recruiting and boosting compensation levels.
He said that construction wages have been consistently rising for the past four years and averaged $27.54 per hour in October, 9.3 percent more than the average for all nonfarm payroll employees. Average hourly earnings in construction increased 2.6 percent from October 2014 to October 2015, up from 2.4 percent one year earlier and 0.7 percent level four years earlier.
For union construction only, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that through Oct. 19, first-year settlements for all collectively bargained construction contracts were higher than the entire industry number, up 3.2 percent, better than the 2.7 percent hike for the same period in 2014.
Association officials said that despite the recent job gains, they continue to remain concerned about the relative shortage of qualified construction workers as the current workforce ages and relatively few young people pursue careers in the construction industry. They noted that a key component of the association’s Workforce Development Plan is designed to expose more high school and college-age students to career opportunities in construction and provide them with the basic skills they would need to begin working in the sector.
“While firms were able to find a larger number of workers this month than during the summer, the supply of qualified workers remains tight,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “It is time to start exposing more students to the fact they can make a very good wage and enjoy rewarding careers in construction.”