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Employment Dips at Nonresidential Firms, As Industry’s 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate and Large Number of Job Openings Point to Difficulty Finding Qualified Workers in Tight Job Market

The construction industry added 11,000 jobs in September as unemployment rates for the sector remained at historically low levels, prompting contractors to raise pay faster than for other jobs, according to an analysis of new government data the Associated General Contractors of America released today. Association officials noted that the number of people working on nonresidential construction projects declined for the month as firms struggle to find enough workers to hire amid tight labor conditions.

“Construction firms have plenty of projects but a dip in nonresidential employment last month shows how hard it has been to find enough skilled workers,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Job openings remain stubbornly high, even though the industry has been raising hourly pay at an elevated rate.”

Construction employment in September totaled 8,014,000, seasonally adjusted, with a gain of 11,000 or 0.1 percent from August. The sector has added 217,000 jobs during the past 12 months, an increase of 2.8 percent. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 12,600 employees in September and 55,300 (1.7 percent) over 12 months. Employment at nonresidential construction firms—nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms—declined by 1,300 positions for the month but increased by 161,600 (3.5 percent) since September 2022.

The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience was 3.8 percent in September, one of the lowest September rates in the 24-year history of the data. A separate government report released earlier this week reported that there were 360,000 job openings in construction at the end of August, the among the highest August totals in series history and a further sign of contractors’ difficulty in finding qualified workers.

Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in construction—covering most onsite craft workers as well as many office workers—climbed by 5.5 percent over the year to $34.54 per hour. Construction firms in August provided a wage “premium” of nearly 19 percent compared to the average hourly earnings for all private-sector production employees.

Association officials said too few future workers are exposed to construction as a possible career opportunity, despite the fact the profession pays very well and typically does not require workers to have a college degree. They urged public officials to boost investments in programs that expose workers to construction as a career opportunity. And they also called on Congress and the Biden administration to find ways to allow more people with construction skills to lawfully enter the country and work in the profession.

“Allowing more people into the country to lawfully work in construction will provide short-term relief for labor shortages without creating a new segment of the population that is dependent on public support,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “At the same time, we need to show more American workers how much they can earn, and how little they will need to spend, to begin careers in construction.”

View the construction employment data.