Given the growing number of economic impacts from mitigation efforts associated with the coronavirus, early 2020 labor market data is of reduced value. However, the data help to describe where the economy was before the shocks of March.
January data from the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) indicate that construction job openings posted year-over-year decline at the start of 2020.
The estimated number of job openings declined from 299,000 in January 2019 to 274,000 in January 2020, after reaching a post-Great Recession high of 430,000 in April.
The open positions rate (job openings as a percentage of total employment plus current job openings) increased to 3.5% in January, after reaching a cycle high of 5.7% in April. On a smoothed, twelve-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector held steady at 4.1%. The peak (smoothed) rate during the building boom prior to the recession was just below 2.7%. For the current cycle, the sector has been above that rate since October 2016.
The overall trend for open construction jobs has been, generally, increasing since the end of the Great Recession. This matches NAHB and other survey data revealing that access to skilled labor remains a top business challenge for builders, affecting a broad set of occupations.
However, expected economic slowing due to the coronavirus is likely to have measurable impacts on the number of construction job openings in the months ahead.
The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a twelve-month moving average basis, held steady at 5.6% in January. The twelve-month moving average for layoffs held steady at 2.8%.