Construction Job Openings Cool at the Start of 2014

The number of open, unfilled construction sector jobs declined at the start of 2014, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). While the February open rate is the fifth highest since the end of the recession, the count of open construction jobs fell during a period when unseasonably cold weather took a toll on numerous parts of the economy.

For the construction sector, monthly gross hiring declined slightly, falling on a seasonally adjusted basis from 281,000 to 273,000 from January to February. Over the same period, the hiring rate, as measured on a 3-month moving average basis, fell from 4.7% to 4.5%.

JOLTS_Feb 2014 data

Measured as a three-month moving average, the construction openings rate (the blue line above) has declined since December, inclusive of a significant downward revision for the preliminary January data. As of February 2014, the three-month moving average stood at 2%, a rate higher than any data reporting prior to October 2013 but lower than the December 2013 peak of 2.33%.

Two other changes in the construction sector are worth noting. First, the layoff rate for the sector (graphed above as a 12-month moving average) has continued to fall. Second, the sector hiring rate has fallen noticeably since the fall of 2013. The trend lines over the last two years – a falling hiring rate, an increasing opening rate, and a declining layoff rate – are consistent with some construction firms having trouble contracting with workers for specific projects. However, future employment reports will indicate whether recent hiring weakness is mostly due to weather effects or reflects new baselines for construction activity.

Monthly employment data for March 2014 (the employment count data from the BLS establishment survey are published one month ahead of the JOLTS data) indicate that total employment in home building stands at 2.242 million, broken down as 650,000 builders and 1.592 million residential specialty trade contractors.

res construction employment

According to the BLS data, over the last year the home building sector has added 103,000 jobs. Since the point of peak decline of home building employment, when total job losses for the industry stood at 1.466 million, 257,500 positions have been added to the residential construction sector. As of March, over the last six months the home building and remodeling industry has added on average more than 10,000 jobs per month.

For the economy as a whole, the February JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate was constant at 3.3% of total employment. The hiring rate has been in the 3.1% to 3.4% range since January 2011. The current overall job openings rate (2.9%) has been in the 2.7% to 2.9% range since the start of 2013.

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