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State Construction Unemployment Rates Down

45 states reported lower unemployment figures than a year ago, while the seasonally adjusted national construction unemployment rate fell by 2.6% in June compared to the same period in 2020.

Associated Builders and Contractors released a detailed state-by-state analysis of data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrating that both overall and construction employment has made a significant improvement despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, National NSA construction employment performed better than nonfarm payroll employment, which was 4.4% down on its February peak before the impact of the pandemic.

Estimated rates for June 2021

In construction, the national NSA unemployment rate went from 5.5% in February 2020 (pre-pandemic) to 7.5% in June 2021. However, 21 states including Arizona, Texas and Alaska had lower rates than the average with Nebraska leading the way on 1.4%. Other states in the bottom five for construction unemployment were Idaho (1.8%), Utah (2%), Georgia (2.7%) and South Dakota (2.9%).

Of the best performing states, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah had also been top five in May 2021. By contrast, Georgia recorded its lowest June rate on record. For Nebraska it was the fourth month in a row that the state had set an all-time unemployment low. Idaho also recorded its lowest June unemployment rate since June 2017 when it stood at 1.7%.

There was no change with the bottom five states, California and West Virginia (11.3%), New York (12.3%), New Mexico (13.5%) and New Jersey (13.6%). All five were the lowest-performing states in May 2021.

Monthly fluctuations

Covid-19 and related shifts in public policy have impacted the way industry-specific rates are evaluated, making month-to-month rather than year-over-year comparisons useful.

The uneven recovery and vagaries of the pandemic can be seen most closely in the June construction unemployment rate. In most years, the NSA unemployment rate for June would be down from May, while this year it trended upwards slightly by 0.8%. That represents only the third May to June uptick since the data series began back in 2000.

While 42 states had higher rates month on month between May and June, eight bucked the trend with Alaska, Idaho and Utah well below the average. The worst performing states included Minnesota, North Dakota and Vermont. However, because the industry-specific rates are not seasonally adjusted, a different picture may emerge year on year.

Vaccines and bounce-back

The specialist analysis was provided by Markstein Advisors for the ABC. Speaking on behalf of Markstein Advisors, Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D., president and chief economist, said the construction industry was being boosted by the bounce-back in the economy and the widespread availability of the Covid vaccine.

Mr Markstein said the recovery would be tested in the upcoming months as funds from the American Rescue Plan Act start to dry up. The arrival of the delta variant was also a disruptor for the recovery. However, he was optimistic about Congress's work to upgrade and repair the country's infrastructure, a plan that would require a skilled workforce. Mr Markstein said that a 'commonsense, bipartisan infrastructure bill' would benefit the economy, the construction industry and the construction workforce.

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