State construction jobs decline by 3.1% in April

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 433 views 

Most every state in the country is shedding construction jobs due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The job market in Arkansas’ construction sector, however, is faring better than most states.

Construction employment in Arkansas decreased by 1,700 jobs (-3.1%) to 52,800 jobs from March to April, an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) of new government data shows. That ranked No. 10 among U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Construction employment declined in the District of Columbia and every state except South Dakota in April.

South Dakota (2%), which added 500 jobs, Utah (-1.6%), Arizona and Hawaii (each at -2.1%) ranked in the top three in terms of fewest job losses as percentage. Vermont (-46.3%), Michigan (-44%) and New York (-40.8%) — states that enacted the strictest lockdown protocols because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic — ranked as the three states with the most job losses as a percentage from March to April. New York experienced the largest construction job loss over the month with 166,200 jobs lost.

“[The] state employment report shows how widespread — and deep — the job losses have been among construction workers, despite a smattering of new or accelerated projects,” Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, our latest survey indicates that the paycheck loan program has enabled some companies to retain or add workers for now, but that relief will expire soon if not extended.”

The economist said the loss of 975,000 construction jobs (13%) nationwide from March to April pushed down industry employment to multi-year lows in many states.

The AGC also released a new survey that finds that rising project cancellations are forcing many firms to furlough or terminate employees even as federal relief measures help avoid further job losses. More than two-thirds (69%) of the 742 respondents report having a project canceled or delayed since the start of the outbreak in early March.

Project cancellations have forced 30% of firms to furlough or terminate employees. But an equal share has added workers, including some firms that laid off employees earlier, according to the survey.

“The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides no-cost loans for firms to cover payroll expenses for a short time, appears to have achieved the goal of helping contractors retain or add workers for now,” Simonson added.

Association officials warned that the PPP benefits will end soon unless Congress acts to extend it. They also called on Congress to pass funding for highways and other infrastructure and to provide liability protections for employers following safety guidelines from coronavirus lawsuits.

“Washington’s temporary relief measures appear to have helped the construction industry avoid even more layoffs,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Now Congress and the administration need to focus on measures that will revive the economy, rebuild demand for construction and restore American jobs.”

Each month, AGC puts out commentary on construction employment in the U.S., ranking each state and 358 metro statistical areas (MSAs) by employment change. The next available state-level date is available June 19. The next MSA-level data is available July 1.

In the most recent MSA report available, the Northwest Arkansas metro added 700 construction jobs (6%) from March 2019 to March 2020, up to 12,700. That ranked No. 54 among MSAs, in terms of percentage change.

Fort Smith metro construction jobs also ranked No. 54 with 6% growth in the same time period, from 5,400 to 5,700 jobs.

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