Total payroll employment fell by 701,000 in March and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4%. The March loss reflected the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Residential construction employment decreased by 4,300 in March, after a revised increase of 24,100 in February. Total construction industry (both residential and nonresidential) employment totaled about 7.6 million in March.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Employment Situation Summary for March. Total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 701,000 in March, after a revised increase of 275,000 jobs in February. It was the first time since September 2010 that monthly employment growth dropped below zero and was almost as low as the trough during the 2008 recession. Over the past twelve months, total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 1.5 million, with the average monthly growth of 125,000.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate increased by 0.9 percentage point to 4.4% in March, after thirteen consecutive months below 4.0%. Over the month, the number of employed persons decreased by 3.0 million roughly, while the number of unemployed persons rose by 1.4 million to 7.1 million. The labor force participation rate, the proportion of the population either looking for a job or already with a job, declined by 0.7 percentage point to 62.7%% in March.
The March job loss reflected the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as business across the country shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Notably, while goods-producing industry lost 54,000 jobs, private service-providing industry lost 659,000 jobs in March. There were significant drops in leisure and hospitality (-459,000 jobs), health care and social assistance (-61,200 jobs), professional and business services (-52,000 jobs), and retail trade (-46,200 jobs).
Additionally, monthly employment data released by the BLS Establishment Survey indicates that employment in the overall construction sector decreased by 29,000 in March. The number of residential construction jobs decreased by 4,300 in March, following a revised increase of 24,100 jobs in February.
Residential construction employment now stands at 3.0 million in March, broken down as 844,000 builders and 2.1 million residential specialty trade contractors. The 6-month moving average of job gains for residential construction is 8,033 a month. Over the last 12 months, home builders and remodelers added 71,500 jobs on a net basis. Since the low point following the Great Recession, residential construction has gained 980,700 positions.
In March, the unemployment rate for construction workers rose to 5.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis, from 4.0% in February. It was the highest level since June 2018. During the past ten years, the unemployment rate for the construction sector has trended downwards and remained historically low.