Construction employment expanded in two-thirds of all states in January as the industry showed signs of emerging from a six-year slump, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of Labor Department data. Association officials cautioned, however, that the industry's recovery remains fragile, and that current and looming federal budget cuts threaten to drag down construction employment in numerous states.
"These results show that contractors are finding work in more parts of the country than they have for many months," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Further gains appear likely but could be derailed if lawmakers continue to make indiscriminate cuts to key construction and infrastructure programs."
From January 2012 to January 2013, 24 states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs, 25 shed workers and one - Wisconsin - had no change.
Most percentage of new construction jobs:
- D.C. (9.4 percent, 1,200 jobs)
- North Dakota (9 percent, 2,500 jobs)
- Hawaii (8 percent, 2,300 jobs)
- Alaska (7.2 percent, 1,200 jobs)
- Washington (6 percent, 8,200 jobs)
Most new construction jobs over past 12 months:
- Texas (28,500 jobs, 5 percent)
- California (17,600 jobs, 3 percent)
- Washington (8,200 jobs, 6 percent)
Highest percentage of lost construction jobs over past year:
- Arkansas (-10.5 percent, -5,100 jobs)
- Rhode Island (-8 percent, -1,300 jobs)
- Montana (-7.2 percent, -1,700 jobs)
- South Dakota (-6.4 percent, -1,400 jobs)
Most jobs lost over past year:
- Illinois (-9,800 jobs, -5 percent)
- Virginia (-7,500 jobs, -4.2 percent)
- Ohio (-5,200 jobs, -2.8 percent)
- Arkansas (-5,100 jobs, -10.5 percent)
Simonson noted that 34 states and D.C. added construction jobs between December and January, while employment slipped in 14 states and held steady in two states.
Largest percentage increase in January 2013:
- Wyoming (4.6 percent, 1,000 jobs)
- New York (4.2 percent, 13,000 jobs)
New York added the largest number of jobs, by far - probably reflecting recovery work from Hurricane Sandy. Alaska and South Dakota had no change in construction employment over the month, while 14 states lost jobs, with Arkansas having the steepest percentage drop (-5 percent, -2,300 jobs); followed by Kansas (-4 percent, -2,200 jobs). Arkansas lost the largest number of jobs for the month; followed by Kansas and Pennsylvania (-2,200 jobs, -1 percent).
"Construction spending has been rising for two full years but contractors have been cautious about adding workers until they knew the upturn would last," Simonson explained. "In 2013, both residential and private nonresidential construction should rise enough to offset a further slowdown in public work, and contractors will be looking for more workers."
Association officials said the cuts in federal funding for construction triggered both by the so-called sequestration that took effect earlier this month and by spending bills now advancing in Congress would fall hardest on construction employers in states that have a large federal government presence. They urged lawmakers to address out-of-control entitlement spending instead of making disproportionate cuts to funding for essential infrastructure and military projects.
"Canceling construction investments will ultimately worsen the deficit by undermining the nation's growth and competitiveness," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "Meanwhile, the burden falls unfairly on states that host large military facilities, as well as states with extensive federal lands, research and energy installations."