Residential Construction Employment: Strong Growth in November


The count of unfilled jobs in the overall construction sector was steady in October, as hiring in the home building sector kicked into high gear in November.

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 126,000 in October from 119,000 in September. The cycle high of 168,000 was set during March.

On a three-month moving average basis, the open position rate (job openings as a percent of total employment) for the construction sector ticked down to 1.9% for September. The overall trend for construction open jobs has been increasing, although the current open rate is down from the cycle high last reached in May (2.4%).

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The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a three-month moving average basis, increased to 5%, hovering at rates set in the spring of 2015. The quits rate for construction fell to 1.4% in October.

Monthly employment data for November 2015 (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 significantly on a seasonally adjusted basis, growing the number of jobs by 32,100 for the month. The November gain was the largest single pickup during the post-recession period. Most of that increase was for residential specialty contractor employment.

The pace of hiring for the residential construction industry had been slowing over the course of 2015. With the jump in November however, the six-month average of monthly employment growth is now 11,000.

Residential construction employment now stands at 2.511 million, broken down as 704,000 builders and 1.81 million residential specialty trade contractors.

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Over the last 12 months home builders and remodelers have added 128,000 jobs on a net basis. Since the low point of industry employment following the Great Recession, residential construction has gained 524,900 positions.

In November, the unemployment rate for construction workers fell to 6.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis, up slightly from the cycle low of 6.5% set during July. The unemployment rate for the construction occupation has been on a general decline since reaching a peak rate of 22% in February 2010.

Many builders continue to cite access to labor as a top business challenge as the market recovers (for example, see this NAHB survey on the issue, focusing on builder and subcontractor workers).

For the economy as a whole, the October JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate held steady at 3.6% of total employment. The overall open job rate ticked down to 3.6%, near the 3.8% cycle high set during July.

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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