Construction Employment Climbs as Overall Total Stagnates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the unemployment rate moved up to 6.1% in May from 6% in April. Revised data going back to the beginning of each series is at

BLS Commissioner Kathleen Utgoff commented, "Construction employment increased for the third month in a row, with a gain of 26,000 in May. Job losses in the industry totaled 160,000 from March 2001 to February 2003. Since February, construction has gained 83,000 jobs, as strength in residential housing spurred growth in specialty trade contractors and construction of buildings."

The new data classifies industries according to the North American Industry Classification System, instead of the former Standard Industrial Classification System; this change reclassifies about 200,000 more workers from other industries into construction.

Overall construction employment in May was 6,783,000, or 5.2% of total nonfarm payroll employment of 130.1 million. Of the three BLS construction subcategories, "construction of buildings" employed 1,622,000, up 42,000 (2.6%) since May 2002; "heavy and civil engineering construction," 901,000, down 27,000 (2.9%); and "specialty trade contractors," 4,259,000, up 53,000 (1.3%). Average weekly hours in construction rose from 38.2 to 38.4 over the year; average hourly earnings went from $18.31 to $18.83 (+2.8%); and average weekly earnings from $738 to $775 (+4.9%).

Construction machinery orders bucked both trends: they jumped 11.1% in April, following a 3.5% rise in March, but year-to-date orders were 5% less than in the same period of 2002. Orders for construction materials and supplies fell 0.4% in April after rising 1.3% in March and were up 1% year-to-date.

Construction was listed among the industries reporting: the highest rates of growth of business activity and employment, inventory decreases, growth in backlog of orders, and increased use of imports.

A recent Census report on value of construction put in place showed mixed results. The traditional classification showed a decline of 0.3%, seasonally adjusted, from March to April, although April's level was 0.7% ahead of the April 2002 number. But a newer classification, using different seasonal factors, showed an 0.7% increase from March to April and a 1.1% gain from a year-ago. Actual year-to-date totals, which are identical for the two systems because they do not incorporate adjustments, were up 0.9%. Year-to-date residential construction was up 10%, private nonresidential building and nonbuilding construction was down 13%, and public construction was virtually flat.

Reprinted with the permission of the AGC.

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