Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), based in Arlington, Virginia, says the construction sector in the United States added 19,000 jobs in March, while project spending increased for the 12 month in a row in February.
The AGC, in its analysis of government data, also warns that further gains could stagnate unless the supply of workers and materials improves. They urge elected and appointed officials to end tariffs on key materials and expand training and education opportunities for construction careers.
“Construction contributes significantly to the expansion of employment and the overall economy,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But the sector is facing growing challenges in filling vacancies, securing materials and keeping up with soaring wages and prices.”
Employment in the industry totaled more than 7.6 million in March, surpassing the pre-pandemic peak set in February 2020 for the first time, according to AGC.
Homebuilders and specialized trade contractors added 7,600 employees in March, and employment in the sector exceeded the February 2020 level by 161,000, or 5.4%. Employment increased by 11,300 for the month among non-residential businesses (construction, specialty trade and heavy construction and civil engineering contractors), but remained at 157,000 or 3.4% below the February 2020 mark .
Despite recent increases in employment, construction job creations at the end of February stood at 364,000, what the AGC calls by far the largest February total in the 22-year history of this data point. Openings topped 342,000 workers hired in February, implying that contractors wanted to hire more than twice as many workers as they could, Simonson says.
Construction spending rose for the 12th straight month in February to $1.7 trillion, up 0.5% for the month and 11.2% year-on-year. All three major subsectors posted year-over-year increases.
Private residential construction rose 1.1% in February and 16.6% year-on-year. Private non-residential spending edged up 0.2% for the month and 9.7% since February 2021. Public construction rose 1.5% from a year earlier despite falling 0.4 % from January to February.
Association staffers say the industry will also need to get materials faster (in addition to hiring more workers) in order to complete projects that will soon be funded by the federal infrastructure law.
AGC says it urges Congress and the Biden administration to: end tariffs on lumber, steel and more; increase funds for vocational and technical education; and supporting a wider range of learning and training opportunities.
“Entrepreneurs are doing their part to recruit employees and complete projects,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the association. “But there won’t be enough materials or workers for everyone unless authorities in Washington allow more goods into the United States and prepare more job seekers for these opportunities.”