Steel Markets

Construction Employment Falls in More than Half of Metro Areas in 2020

Written by Sandy Williams

The U.S. is experiencing a housing construction boom, but nonresidential construction projects are dwindling as pre-pandemic starts are completed and new projects are put on hold, said the Associated General Contractors of America. As a result, more than half of metro areas reported a decline in construction employment from December 2019 to December 2020.

“A dearth of new construction work is forcing more and more contractors to lay off employees once they complete projects started before the pandemic hit in early 2020,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Private nonresidential construction spending tumbled 10% from December 2019 to December 2020 and public work has been slowing since last March, according to recent Census Bureau data.”

AGC reports that construction employment fell in 43% of 348 metro areas in 2020 and was stagnant in an additional 33 areas. Only 37% of metro areas added construction jobs during the year.

Details from AGC follow:

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, lost the largest number of construction jobs in 2020 (-24,500 jobs, -10%), followed by New York City (-19,100 jobs, -12%); Midland, Texas (-9,200 jobs, -23%); Montgomery-Bucks-Chester Counties, Pa. (-9,100 jobs, -17%); and Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. (-6,900 jobs, -6%). Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Mass. had the largest percentage decline (-40%, -2,100 jobs), followed by Altoona, Pa. (-34%, -1,000 jobs); Bloomsburg-Berwick, Pa. (-33%, -400 jobs); Johnstown, Pa. (-29%, -700 jobs); and East Stroudsburg, Pa. (-26%, -500 jobs).

Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind., added the most construction jobs over the year (5,600 jobs, 10%), followed by Northern Virginia (5,300 jobs, 7%); Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (4,900 jobs, 5%); Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Md. (4,800 jobs, 6%); and Kansas City, Mo. (3,300 jobs, 11%). Walla Walla, Wash., had the highest percentage increase (17%, 200 jobs), followed by Fond du Lac, Wis. (16%, 500 jobs); Springfield, Mo. (15%, 1,400 jobs); and Dutchess-Putnam counties, N.Y. (15%, 1,300 jobs).

The association expects job losses to widen due to state and local funding challenges for public projects and encourages Washington to move quickly on an infrastructure plan. “Helping people now is important, but planning to rebuild our economy is essential to recovering from the economic pain of the pandemic,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “It is not enough to just want a better economy; you have to build it.”

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