Construction adds 26,000 workers in September

By |  October 5, 2020
Photo by Kevin Yanik

The construction industry’s unemployment rate in September was 7.1 percent, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Photo: P&Q Staff

Construction employment increased by 26,000 jobs in September to a total of 7.2 million, reports the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), which conducted an analysis of government data.

The gains, however, were concentrated in housing, while employment in the infrastructure and nonresidential building construction sector remained little changed, AGC says.

AGC officials say the pandemic was prompting strong demand for new housing as more Americans work from home, while undermining private-sector development of office, retail and other types of projects and forcing many local and state governments to cut construction budgets.

“Construction is becoming steadily more split between a robust residential component and generally stagnant private nonresidential and public construction activity,” says Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist, noting that in the three months since June, residential construction employment has increased nearly 3 percent while nonresidential employment has slipped 0.2 percent. “As project cancellations mount, so too will job losses on the nonresidential side unless the federal government provides funding for infrastructure and relief for contractors.”

The AGC of America-Autodesk Workforce Survey, released in September, found that 38 percent of respondents – whose firms perform all types of nonresidential construction – expect it will take more than six months for their firms’ volume of business to return to normal, relative to a year earlier. That percentage topped the 29 percent who reported business was already at or above year-ago levels.

A likely reason for the more pessimistic outlook is the rapid increase in postponed or canceled projects, Simonson says. He notes that the latest survey found 60 percent of firms report a scheduled project has been postponed or canceled, compared to 12 percent that had won new or additional work as a result of the pandemic.

The employment pickup in September was mainly in homebuilding, home improvement and a portion of nonresidential construction, Simonson says. There was a rise of 22,100 jobs in residential construction employment, comprised of residential building (6,600) and residential specialty trade contractors (15,500). There was a gain of 4,000 jobs in nonresidential construction employment, covering nonresidential building (5,300), specialty trades (2,100) and heavy and civil engineering construction (down 3,400).

The industry’s unemployment rate in September was 7.1 percent, with 700,000 former construction workers idled. According to AGC, these figures were more than double the September 2019 figures of 3.2 percent and 319,000 workers, respectively.

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Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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