Spokane Journal of Business

More than half of states lost construction jobs in April

Washington saw slight dip in building employment; Idaho gained positions

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Construction employment remained on a seesaw in April as only 19 states added jobs, 28 states and the District of Columbia had declines, and three states maintained March employment levels, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of Labor Department data.

The year-over-year figures showed a similar but slightly better pattern, association officials added, as 22 states and D.C. posted construction employment increases between April 2011 and 2012, while 27 lost jobs and employment was unchanged in Rhode Island.

"The close balance between job gainers and losers among states reflects the sluggish growth in construction nationally," says Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Private nonresidential and multifamily projects have been increasing by double-digit percentages in much of the country. Single-family homebuilding is finally coming back to life in selected locations. But public construction is declining nearly everywhere."

Washington state was among those that lost jobs in April, albeit a slight decrease. The AGC data says the state had 139,700 construction jobs last month, down 400 jobs, or 0.3 percent, from the previous month. Compared with a year earlier, however, Washington was up 2,500 jobs for a 1.8 percent increase, ranking it 19th nationally in construction-job growth.

Idaho gained 300 jobs in April, for a total of 30,400 during the month, a 1 percent month-over-month increase. Compared with a year earlier, the state was up 700 jobs, which was a 2.4 percent rise and ranked it 14th nationally.

Simonson says that the three locations with the largest percentage gains in construction jobs between April 2011 and April 2012 also led in the previous-month standings: North Dakota (18.9 percent, 4,300 jobs), followed by D.C. (13.8 percent, 1,600), and Iowa (11.6 percent, 7,200). Texas added the most jobs (14,100, 2.5 percent), followed by Indiana (9,400, 8.1 percent), and Arizona (8,600, 7.8 percent).

Simonson says that among states that lost construction jobs during the past year, Alaska lost the highest percentage (-17.6 percent, -2,800 jobs), followed by Alabama (-10.5 percent, -8,500), and Delaware (-9.0 percent, -1,800). Florida lost the most jobs (-24,500, -7.3 percent), followed by Alabama and Illinois (each at -8,400, -4.7 percent).

Iowa added the highest percentage of construction jobs from March to April (4.1 percent, 2,700 jobs), followed by North Dakota (3.4 percent, 900), and Montana (3.4 percent, 800). Texas added the largest number of jobs during the month (7,300, 1.3 percent), followed by Iowa.

Of states that lost construction jobs for the month, Alaska had the steepest percentage decline (-8.4 percent, -1,200 jobs), followed by New Hampshire (-4.7 percent, -1,100). Florida had the largest number of job losses (-9,200, -2.9 percent) followed by California (-6,700, -1.2 percent). Construction employment held steady for the month in Ohio, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Association officials say the mixed results in construction employment reflect continued declines in public-sector investments in construction activity and growing uncertainty about future infrastructure funding levels. They note that many firms that work on public projects, especially infrastructure projects, are hesitant to add staff while action on highway and transit, water, and federal construction projects remains in limbo.

"Many construction firms will be stuck in neutral unless Washington can complete a host of long-term infrastructure measures," says Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "It looks like public-sector uncertainty is taking some of the energy out of the mild private-sector recovery in construction demand."

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