Construction employment expanded in 224 metro areas, declined in 64 and was stagnant in 51 between November 2013 and November 2014, according to a new analysis of federal employment data recently released by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said contractors in many parts of the country were benefitting from growing demand, yet labor shortages threaten to undermine the sector's recovery.
"It is good news that construction employment is now rising in two-thirds of the nation's metro areas," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. "But now that the unemployment rate for construction workers has fallen to a seven-year low, it has become a major challenge to find qualified workers in many fields."
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas added the largest number of construction jobs in the past year (16,200 jobs, 9 percent); followed by Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (11,000 jobs, 10 percent); Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. (9,100 jobs, 7 percent) and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (8,900 jobs, 12 percent). The largest percentage gains occurred in Pascagoula, Miss. (24 percent, 1,500 jobs); Fargo, N.D. (19 percent, 1,600 jobs); Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla. (18 percent, 700 jobs) and York-Hanover, Pa. (18 percent, 1,700 jobs).
The largest job losses from November 2013 to November 2014 were in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md. (-3,600 jobs, -11 percent); followed by Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. (-3,000 jobs, -3 percent); Edison-New Brunswick N.J. (-2,700 jobs, -6 percent); Gary, Ind. (-2,500 jobs, -14 percent) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (-2,500 jobs, -4 percent). The largest percentage decline for the past year was in Steubenville-Weirton, Ohio-W.Va. (-39 percent, -900 jobs); followed by Cheyenne, Wyo. (-17 percent, -600 jobs); Fond du Lac, Wis. (-15 percent, -400 jobs) and Gary, Ind.
Association officials noted that most contractors report they are having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill key positions as demand rebounds. They cautioned that if labor conditions get even tighter, contractors will have to pass on new projects, and possibly delay existing ones, because of a lack of workers. Indeed, 25 percent of contractors reported over the summer they were already declining to bid on certain projects because of the lack of available workers.
"It is time to start rebuilding the once robust career and technical education programs that used to exist in most school districts around the country," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "Without a solid network for preparing future workers, we are likely to spend much of 2015 talking about how the construction industry is failing to keep up with demand."