Construction Unemployment Rates Indicate Recovery

Credit: Associated Builders and Contractors

By Associated Builders and Contractors

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 percent, 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 percent below its February 2020 peak.

The national NSA construction unemployment rate went from 5.5 percent in February 2020 to 8.6 percent in March 2021, up 3.1 percent. Over that same period, 12 states had lower estimated NSA construction unemployment rates, 37 had higher rates and one (Utah) remained unchanged.

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 percent
  2. Kansas and Utah (tie), 2.5 percent
  3. North Carolina, 3.5 percent
  4. Georgia, 3.6 percent

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 percent 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:

  1. Maine, 14.6 percent
  2. New York, 15.7 percent
  3. Alaska, 21.2 percent
  4. Rhode Island, 22.6 percent
  5. Hawaii, 28 percent

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. (Source)

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