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Construction Employment Reaches 11-Year Peak in January

Feb. 1, 2019
The 951,400 electrical contractors reported in the preliminary government data for December are the most since 2001.

Construction employment increased by 52,000 jobs in January and by 338,000 jobs, or 4.7%, over the past year, while the latest reading on construction spending showed moderate increases in all major categories, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. The 951,400 electrical contractors reported in the preliminary government data for December are the most since 2001. The January data  for electrical contractors should be out in the next few weeks

"There has been no letup in demand for construction projects—or workers," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist in the press release. "Even though the industry added employees at more than double the pace of the overall economy in the past year, the average workweek in construction reached an all-time high and unemployment in construction hit a series low, indicating that contractors would hire even more workers if they were available."

Construction employment totaled 7,464,000 in January, the most since January 2018. A report on construction spending — delayed a month by the partial government shutdown — showed an increase of 0.8% from October to November and 4.5% year-to-date for the first 11 months of 2018 combined compared to the same period in 2017. Year-to-date spending rose by 3.9% for residential construction, 3.5% for private nonresidential construction and 7% percent for public construction.

The unemployment rate for jobseekers with construction experience in January was 6.4%, down from 7.3% in January 2018. The number of such workers fell to 638,000 from 707,000 a year earlier. Both figures were the lowest for January since those series began in 2000, Simonson pointed out.

In a survey the association released in January, more contractors reported they expect the dollar volume of projects available to bid on to expand than to shrink in 2019 in each of 13 project categories. In addition, 79% of construction firms reported that they expect to add employees in 2019. However, nearly as many —78% — reported they were having trouble filling some positions and 68% said they expected that hiring would remain difficult or become harder. A

"The pool of unemployed workers with construction experience has virtually evaporated, and everyone in the industry is working longer hours than ever," said Stephen Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "The only way to satisfy the demand is to provide more people with the skills needed to work in construction and to expand the nation's labor force with qualified workers from outside our borders."