National construction job numbers on the mend

Sector employment grows in 26 states and DC from February to March.

  • Industry's challenges remain severe — Arkansas and North Dakota are only states to add construction jobs between March 2009 and 2010.
  • California loses nearly 108,500 jobs year over year.

Construction employment expanded in 26 states and the District of Columbia between February and March 2010, yet only Arkansas and North Dakota have more construction workers than they did a year ago according to a new analysis of federal employment figures released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. The new figures, while offering room for optimism, underscore how far the industry is from a recovery, association officials said.

"It's too early to tell whether these numbers reflect the start of a positive trend, or the impact of a warm March following a snowy February," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Even assuming the numbers are heading in the right direction, it is a long climb just to get back to normal for the construction industry."

Simonson noted that between February and March 2010, 26 states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs. Maryland added the most jobs (5,200, 3.7 percent); followed by Pennsylvania (4,900, 2.3 percent); New York (4,300, 1.4 percent); Missouri (4,100, 4.1 percent); and Indiana (3,500, 3.1 percent). During the same period, 22 states lost jobs, and construction employment was unchanged in two states. Texas lost the most jobs (6,300, 1.1 percent); followed by Louisiana (5,200, 4.1 percent); Nevada (4,600, 6.7 percent); Arizona (2,900, 2.5 percent); and Colorado (2,600, 2.3 percent).

The state construction employment picture is significantly bleaker when measured between March 2009 and 2010, Simonson cautioned. He said that 48 states and the District of Columbia lost construction jobs over the past year, while only Arkansas (300, 0.6 percent) and North Dakota (100, 0.5 percent) added construction jobs. The construction economist added that 28 states experienced double-digit percentage declines in construction employment over the past year.

Among the states losing construction jobs last year, California (108,500, 16.3 percent) lost the most; followed by Florida (57,000, 13.7 percent); Illinois (32,800, 14.2 percent); Washington (31,200, 18.4 percent); and Ohio (29,400, 15.2 percent). Nevada (30.0 percent, 27,400 jobs) and Colorado (20.3 percent, 28,600 jobs) experienced the highest percentage declines in construction employment over the past year.

Association officials said they expected stimulus-funded construction work to provide a needed boost for the construction industry this year. But they cautioned that continued declines in private-sector and state & local construction activity were likely to exceed the amount of stimulus funded work. "As much as the stimulus helps, until broader demand for construction expands, our industry will be lucky just to tread water," Simonson added.