Elevated Count of Unfilled Construction Jobs in January

The count of unfilled jobs in the overall construction sector reached a post-Great Recession high in January of 2016.

According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and NAHB analysis, the number of open construction sector jobs (on a seasonally adjusted basis) increased to 185,000 in January from 124,000 in December. The January estimate beat the previous cycle high of 177,000 open positions set last May and represents the highest monthly count of job openings since July 2007.

It is worth noting that the JOLTS data was revised for the history of the series in the current BLS release. Thus, for example, the November and December job openings estimates were revised down, while October’s measure was revised up.

On a three-month moving average basis, the open position rate (job openings as a percent of total employment) for the construction sector increased to 2.0% for January. The overall trend for open construction jobs has been an increasing since the end of the Great Recession. This is consistent with survey data indicating that access to labor remains a top business challenge for builders.

constr JOLTS Jan

The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a three-month moving average basis, held steady at 4.9%, remaining near rates set in the spring of 2015. The quits rate for construction fell to 1.2% for January.

Monthly employment data for February 2016 (the employment count data from the BLS establishment survey are published one month ahead of the JOLTS data) indicate that home builders and remodelers increased hiring on a seasonally adjusted basis in recent months. Total residential construction employment grew by 15,900 for February.

The pace of hiring for the residential construction industry had been slowing over the course of 2015. With the recent acceleration however, the six-month average of monthly employment growth is now a robust 20,000.

Residential construction employment now stands at 2.584 million, broken down as 716,000 builders and 1.869 million residential specialty trade contractors.

feb home building employment

Over the last 12 months home builders and remodelers have added 155,000 jobs on a net basis. Since the low point of industry employment following the Great Recession, residential construction has gained 598,100 positions.

In February, the unemployment rate for construction workers decreased slightly to 6.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The unemployment rate for the construction occupation has been on a general decline since reaching a peak rate of 22% in February 2010.


For the economy as a whole, the January JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate held slipped to 3.5% of total employment. The overall open job rate increased to 3.7%, equal to the cycle high set during October.

Rising job openings for the overall economy are affecting many business sectors as the unemployment rate has fallen, with employers wanting new workers but holding greater numbers of unfilled positions. This could bode well for future hiring, but it might also signal that scarcity for labor is becoming a more general concern.

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