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After two months of losses, US construction employment stagnates in June

Even as they reported a leveling off in hiring, trades groups were saying contractors would most likely be increasing their head counts if they could only find more qualified workers.

Citing federal data, the Associated General Contractors of America reported Friday that the number of people employed in the U.S. construction industry held steady at about 6.64 million from May to June. That leveling off came in the wake of two months in which the number fell, going down by 6,000 in April and 16,000 in May.

Yet, even with the declines, AGC officials pointed to signs that contractors might actually be trying to hire more.

“Unemployment among construction workers is at a 16-year low, while average hourly earnings have accelerated for the past three months and average weekly hours are very high,” Ken Simonson, the AGC chief economist, said in a statement Friday. “These indicators, along with reports from contractors, suggest there is a dearth of qualified workers to hire, not a deliberate pullback in hiring.”

Construction workers’ average hourly earnings hit $28.13 in June, an increase of 2.8 percent from the same month a year ago. The industry’s unemployment rate — which takes into account the number of people who are now without work and were last employed in construction — was 4.6 percent in June. That was the lowest rate seen for that month since June 2000.

Even though employment was stagnant in the construction industry as a whole, individual subsectors did well. Nonresidential specialty contractors added 3,700 jobs from May to June and residential specialty contractors added 4,700.

Those gains were offset by losses among nonresidential builders (down 1,300 jobs), heavy and civil-engineering contractors (down 3,900 jobs) and residential builders (down 2,400 jobs).

The Associated Builders and Contractors, a trades group that represents mainly nonunion companies, said some of the blame can be laid at the government’s feet.

“As has been the case for many months, the most significant sources of weakness in construction activity and hiring relate to public spending,” Anirban Basu, ABC chief economist, said in a statement. “Despite the passage of a federal highway spending bill late last year, heavy and civil engineering contractors, many of whom are engaged in work on roads and bridges, have been trimming employment. Not only did this segment shed jobs in June, but employment in this sector is slightly less than it was a year ago.”

Although contractors had a stagnant month, other industries did well. Leisure and hospitality employers added 59,000 jobs, led by strong gains at restaurants and hotels. Also contributing were performing arts and spectator sports, which added 14,000 jobs.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Industry (change from previous month) June 2016 May 2016 Past 12 months
Construction 0 -16,000 217,000
Manufacturing 14,000 -16,000 -29,000
Retail 29,900 3,000 312,800
Transportation, warehousing -9,400 3,600 38,400
Information (Telecom, publishing) 44,000 -39,000 36,000
Financial services 16,000 14,000 163,000
Professional services (Accounting, engineering, temp work) 38,000 18,000 497,000
Education and health 59,000 52,000 668,000
Hotels, restaurants, entertainment 59,000 -3,000 413,000
Government 22,000 17,000 129,000

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]ilyreporter.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

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