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Construction Unemployment Drops To 13.2 Percent, Lowest April Mark in Five Years

Residential Contractors Add Jobs at Robust Clip for the Month and Year While Nonresidential Employment Rises Relative to 2012 Level but Slips from March; Association Warns of Potential Future Worker Shortages

The unemployment rate for construction workers fell to the lowest April level in five years as contractors added more than 150,000 employees in the past year despite a dip in employment last month, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that, despite the monthly drop, the industry is likely to continue adding jobs for much of 2013.

“It is heartening to see that both nonresidential and residential segments of the construction industry added significant numbers of workers in the last 12 months, even though gains from March to April were limited to the residential side,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “Other indicators, such as the continuing growth in architectural and engineering employment, suggest that demand for construction will expand further.”

Seasonally adjusted construction employment of 5.79 million in April was 6,000 less than in March, but 154,000, or 2.7 percent, higher than in April 2012, Simonson noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 13,300 workers in the month and 83,700 (4.1 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors, along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms, lost 19,700 employees in April, but added 70,100 (2.0 percent) over 12 months.  Architectural and engineering services employment climbed by 2,700 in the month and 23,400 (1.8 percent) from a year earlier.

The unemployment rate for jobseekers who last worked in construction fell to 13.2 percent from 14.5 percent in April 2012, the lowest April level since 2008. Three years ago, in April 2010, the rate was 21.8 percent. The industry unemployment rate is not seasonally adjusted and, thus, can be compared to the same month in past years but not month to month.

“The ongoing decline in the construction unemployment rate is only partly a result of opportunities in the industry,” Simonson pointed out. “Unfortunately, many former workers have now left the industry, perhaps permanently, which will make further recovery in construction more difficult.”

Association officials said that if construction employment grows as expected during the coming months, it will become increasingly difficult for employers in particularly fast growing market regions and segments to find qualified workers.  They added that a lack of domestic skill-based educational programs and arbitrary caps on the number of construction workers in proposed immigration legislation would make it harder for firms to keep up with growing demand.

“It will not take a lot of growth in demand before many construction firms are scrambling to fill positions with skilled workers,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “We need to provide significantly more opportunities for students to learn skills-based crafts like construction and avoid imposing artificial limits on the size of the construction workforce in immigration legislation.”

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