Construction employment gains spread to more metropolitan areas between July 2012 and July 2013 than in previous months but full recovery remained elusive as only a few areas have exceeded pre-recession employment records, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released Aug. 23 by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said that despite the gains, construction employment remains below peak levels in most metro areas.
“The good news is that 201 metro areas added construction jobs in the past year, the largest number with year-over-year gains since March 2012,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But construction employment is at an all-time July high in only 19 of those areas. At the other extreme, construction employment declined in 90 metros in the last 12 months, and 28 areas have lost at least half of the construction employees they once had.”
Construction employment was stable in the past year in 48 metros, he added.
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas added by far the largest number of construction jobs in the past year out of the 339 metros with construction employment data (13,000 jobs, 7 percent). Next were Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass. (8,400 jobs, 15 percent) and Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. (8,400 jobs, 9 percent).
The largest percentage gains since July 2012 occurred in Pascagoula, Miss. (44 percent, 1,800 jobs), followed by Eau Claire, Wis. (27 percent, 900 jobs), Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J. (26 percent, 1,100 jobs) and Fargo, N.D.-Minn. (23 percent, 1,900 jobs). Fargo exceeded its previous July peak (2008) by 17 percent, the most of any metro. The data are not seasonally adjusted, so July cannot be compared to other months, Simonson noted.
The largest job losses from July 2012 to July 2013 were in Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (minus 6,000 jobs, minus 9 percent). Despite strong job gains in the past year, the Phoenix area had the largest decline in construction employment since its peak in July 2006 (minus 86,500 jobs, minus 47 percent), followed by Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. (minus 73,900 jobs or minus 67 percent since July 2006). The largest percentage decline in the past year was in Pocatello, Idaho (minus 19 percent, minus 300 jobs), while the largest percentage declines from July peaks were in Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz. (minus 74 percent, minus 5,600 jobs since July 2006) and Las Vegas-Paradise.
Association officials said that construction employment in many metro areas appears to be benefitting from a steady growth in demand for private-sector construction projects, especially for residential construction. But they noted construction spending and employment levels are still 25 percent below peak levels from 2006 and that public sector demand for construction remains relatively weak.
“The construction market is definitely better than it was just a few years ago, but we are still a long way from a full recovery,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “But with many former construction workers now employed in other industries, a number of firms are likely to have an increasingly hard time finding enough skilled workers if employment continues to expand.”