Construction industry employment hit a new five-year high in November as the sector added 20,000 jobs and its unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent, the lowest rate for November in seven years, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned, however, that the latest figures include signs that demand for public-sector and non-residential construction may be weakening.
"November was another good month overall for construction workers and businesses," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Yet the recent declines in public works and nonresidential building construction employment may indicate some underlying weakness in the construction market."
Construction employment totaled 6,109,000 in November, the highest total since April 2009, with a 12-month gain of 213,000 jobs or 3.6 percent, Simonson noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 16,700 employees since October and 122,800 (5.6 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential contractors hired a net of 3,600 workers for the month and 90,100 (2.4 percent) since November 2013. However, the heavy and civil engineering construction segment, which includes most forms of public works construction, lost 1,300 jobs in November, while nonresidential building construction lost 2,400 jobs.
The number of workers who said they looked for work in the past month and had last worked in construction fell to 629,000 in November. That was lower than in any November since 2006, when many nonresidential contractors were forced to delay projects because they couldn't find qualified workers.
Association officials said the overall construction employment gains were welcome news for an industry hard hit during the downturn. But they cautioned that demand appeared to be falling for workers in the nonresidential and public-sector segments of the industry. They urged Congress and the administration to work together to address the nation's crumbling infrastructure, saying that swift passage of a new highway and transit bill could bring needed stability o the public-sector market.
"While the overall construction industry appears to be recovering, this month?s data is not entirely positive," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "What the data shows us is this industry would be a lot better off, as would the broader economy, if Washington could figure out how to pay for and enact a long-term highway and transit bill, as well as other measures to fix our crumbling infrastructure."