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Construction employment, spending, up to start 2020

Date Posted: March 20 2020

U.S. construction employment increased by 42,000 jobs in February and by 223,000 or 3.0 percent over the past 12 months, as the industry’s unemployment rate hit a new February low, according to an analysis of new government data released March 6 by the Associated General Contractors of America. 

AGC officials said some of the gains were attributable to mild winter weather in many parts of the country last month but added that the main reason for the gains was strong demand for construction services.

“Contractors are off to a fast start in 2020, adding 91,000 jobs in the first two months - the most in nearly two years,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Although some of the gains probably reflect unusually mild winter weather in much of the nation, there is no question that contractors have been upbeat about the volume of work available.”

Total construction employment climbed to 7.64 million, the highest level since July 2007, with gains in both residential and nonresidential employment. The 3.0 percent growth in construction employment between February 2019 and February 2020 was nearly double the 1.6 percent increase in total nonfarm payroll employment. 

In addition, average hourly earnings in construction – a measure of all wages and salaries – increased 3.0 percent over the year to $31.35. That figure was 9.9 percent higher than the private-sector average of $28.52.

Meanwhile, the AGC reported on March 3 that U.S. construction spending in January increased 1.8 percent to $1.369 trillion from December, and was up 6.8 percent compared to January 2019.

The AGC cautioned that January results may have been boosted by unusually mild winter weather in much of the nation and that spending in future months could be impacted by uncertainty related to the coronavirus and its potential impacts on the supply chain for construction materials.