Construction employment is holding its own, although it is not back to pre-pandemic levels, according to state-by-state analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released by Associated Builders and Contractors for March 2021. These data show that on a year-over-year basis, the not seasonally adjusted construction unemployment rates rose nationally and in 33 states, fell in 15 states and were unchanged in two states, Oklahoma and Washington.
National NSA construction employment was down 80,000 from March 2020. Seasonally adjusted construction employment remains 182,000, or 2.4%, below its February 2020 peak, before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic began to influence employment numbers. This compares favorably to national SA nonfarm payroll employment, which was 5.5% below its February 2020 peak.
The national NSA construction unemployment rate went from 5.5% in February 2020 to 8.6% in March 2021, up 3.1%. Over that same period, 12 states had lower estimated NSA construction unemployment rates, 37 had higher rates and one (Utah) remained unchanged.
“The combination of better weather and vaccine availability is already improving the health of both the economy and the construction industry,” said Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D., president and chief economist of Markstein Advisors, who conducted the analysis for ABC. “Federal spending from the roughly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act is providing short-term support to the economy, helping to maintain an upward trajectory. Longer term, there remains a need for repairs and upgrades to the nation’s aging infrastructure. If Democrats and Republicans in Congress can come to agreement on a plan that will benefit both the nation’s long-term economic growth prospects and the construction industry, that would further improve the employment outlook.”
Recent Month-to-Month Fluctuations
Because these industry-specific rates are not seasonally adjusted, national and state unemployment rates are best evaluated on a year-over-year basis. However, due to the changing impact from the COVID-19 pandemic and related shifts in public policy, month-to-month comparisons are useful.
February is typically a dicey month due to the variability of weather. This past February was particularly rough following a mild winter. March was much improved, resulting in the national NSA construction unemployment rate falling by one percent from February. Since the data series began in 2000, the historical pattern of change in rates from February has generally been a decrease (17 years), only three years with an increase and one year with no change. Among the states, 35 had lower estimated construction unemployment rates than in February, 13 had higher rates, and two were unchanged, Colorado and Connecticut.
The Top Five States
The states with the lowest March 2021 estimated NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest to highest were:
1. Nebraska, 2%
2. Kansas and Utah (tie), 2.5%
4. North Carolina, 3.5%
5. Georgia, 3.6%
Three of these states were in the top five in February 2021—Georgia, North Carolina and Utah. Nebraska, which had the lowest construction unemployment rate among the states, had its lowest March rate on record. Kansas, which tied with Utah for the second lowest rate, also had its lowest March rate on record. Georgia, with the fifth lowest rate, posted its second lowest March rate on record, behind its March 2019 3.3% construction unemployment rate.
The Bottom Five States
The states with the highest March 2021 estimated NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest to highest were:
46. Maine, 14.6%
47. New York, 15.7%
48. Alaska, 21.2%
49. Rhode Island, 22.6%
50. Hawaii, 28%
All of these states were in the bottom five in February except for Maine. Note that the unemployment rate for Hawaii, which had the highest rate, is for construction, mining and logging combined.