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AGC Sees Continued Employment Gains but Raises Concerns Over Policies

Construction employment grew in 281 metro areas between October 2017 and October 2018.

Construction market employment continues to show widespread strength but continuing this trend will depend on policies to support technical education and reform immigration, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), in its report on monthly construction employment figures.

Construction employment grew in 281, or 78%, out of 358 metro areas between October 2017 and October 2018, declined in 43 and was unchanged in 34, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released by the AGC. Association officials cautioned that such widespread employment gains might not continue without policy changes to increase the supply of qualified workers.

"Construction employment has been increasing at a greater rate than overall employment in many metros," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "But many contractors report they are having difficulty filling hourly craft worker positions, even though construction pay exceeds the average for the overall economy."

Simonson noted that construction job openings at the end of September jumped 55% from a year earlier to 278,000, the highest September level in the 18-year history of the series. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for construction workers fell to 3.6% in October, the lowest October rate since that series began in 2000.

Association officials said the steep increase in job openings and the record low unemployment rate in construction show the need for policy measures to increase the supply of workers. They urged government officials to modernize and double funding for career and technical education over the next five years and enact immigration reforms that would enable construction employers to bring in foreign workers when there are not enough locally available construction workers.

"The construction industry is improving the economies of metro areas nationwide, but those gains are at risk," said Stephen Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "Public officials should promptly overhaul career and technical education to prepare more students for rewarding and high-paying careers in construction. Meanwhile, there is an immediate need for skilled construction workers from outside the U.S."

The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas metro area added the most construction jobs during the past year (25,600 jobs, 12%). Other metro areas adding a large amount of construction jobs during the past 12 months include Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. (16,700 jobs, 14%); Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (13,100 jobs, 9%); and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (11,700 jobs, 16%). The largest percentage gain occurred in Midland, Texas (25%, 7,200 jobs), followed by New Bedford, Mass. (22%, 600 jobs); Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va.-Ohio (21%, 400 jobs); and Lewiston, Idaho-Wash. (20%, 300 jobs).

The largest job losses between October 2017 and October 2018 occurred in Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, N.J. (-3,900 jobs, -10%), followed by Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Md. (-2,100 jobs, -3%); Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, Calif. (-1,500 jobs, -2%); Camden, N.J. (-1,100 jobs, -5%) and Spokane-Spokane Valley, Wash. (-1,100 jobs, -8%). The largest percentage decrease occurred in Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, followed by Laredo, Texas (-10%, -400 jobs), Spokane-Spokane Valley and Charleston, W.Va. (-7%, -500 jobs).

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