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Nonresidential Construction Continues to Add Jobs

The construction industry added 10,000 net new jobs in October, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data released Nov. 1 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On a year-over-year basis, industry employment has expanded by 148,000 jobs or 2 percent.


Nonresidential construction employment increased by 4,000 jobs on net in October and is up 2.1 percent over the past year. On a monthly basis, however, both the nonresidential building and nonresidential specialty trade contractors segments lost jobs, which comports with the recent decline in investment in structures, according to the third quarter gross domestic product release.


The construction unemployment rate rose to 4 percent in October, up 0.4 percentage points from the same time last year. Unemployment across all workforce participants increased to 3.6 percent in October as the labor force participation rate for the broader economy inched up to 63.3 percent.


“Increasingly, the nonresidential construction sector is a tale of two industries,” said ABC Chief Economic Anirban Basu. “While the overall industry has added jobs for the past three consecutive months, the segments most closely tied to commercial construction, including retail and lodging, have slowed substantially. There are many reasons for this, including emerging concerns regarding saturation of available commercial product in a number of areas. Accordingly, the GDP report released earlier showed investment in structures contracted 15.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis during the third quarter of 2019, a rather substantial dip. [The Nov. 1] employment report indicates that the nonresidential building subsegment has now lost jobs on a year-over-year basis over the last four months.


“This represents a stark departure from earlier in the cycle when private construction segments led the construction spending expansion,” said Basu. “For years, public construction lagged private construction in terms of recovery as state and local governments wrestled with the aftermath of the Great Recession. But today’s economy is different. Jobs are plentiful, translating into higher income tax collections. Consumers are spending, helping to generate retail sales tax collections. Property values have also risen and there are more properties to assess and tax, translating into higher property tax collections.


“As a result, there is more money for infrastructure investment in a number of public categories, including water and public safety,” said Basu. “The expected depletion of the Highway Trust Fund in 2021, however, represents a looming threat to public construction momentum. The implication is that the overall nonresidential construction spending cycle may experience greater turbulence over the next 12 to 18 months, but for now, the data indicate overall positive momentum.”

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