Employment in the COVID-19 Era

Unsurprisingly, employment in construction, like every other industry, has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. With millions of Americans signing onto the unemployment roll each week since March’s lockdown orders, good news has been slow in coming. Overall employment, while creeping up, is far from the level pre-pandemic.
For example, the latest Paychex | IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch, shows that employment growth improved slightly in May, up 0.25%, as stay-at-home orders eased in most states. Because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jobs index has fallen 3.95% year-over-year, most of which (3.52%) occurred in the past quarter. The transition back to work also resulted in a 5.33% one-month annualized increase in weekly hours worked after a sharp drop in April.
The slight increase in employment numbers last month indicates that employers are starting to bring back employees who were furloughed or temporarily laid off during pandemic-related business closures. Funds received from the Paycheck Protection Program have been helpful in allowing some businesses to retain employees. An extension of the SBA’s loan forgiveness timeline and different parameters would be a positive next step in flexibility to support business survival and recovery.
According to the Associate General Contractors of America, construction employment rebounded by 464,000 jobs in May, but the total remained 596,000 below the latest peak in February and the industry’s 12.7% unemployment rate was the highest for May since 2012. Association officials cautioned that the future job losses are likely as temporary federal support programs end, state and local officials deal with tighter budgets and private sector demand declines later this year.
The association’s latest survey found that nearly one-fourth of contractors reported a project that was scheduled to start in June or later had been canceled. With many states and localities having started a new fiscal year on July 1, even more public construction is likely to be canceled unless the federal government makes up for some of their lost revenue and unbudgeted expenses.
The gain of 464,000 jobs in May followed losses of 995,000 in April and 65,000 in March, for a cumulative loss over three months of 596,000. Construction employment totaled 7,043,000 in May, about where it stood in late 2017.
Construction employment declined between March and April in 326 metro areas and increased in only 20 areas. New York City lost the largest number of construction jobs for the month: 75,900 jobs or 49 % of the March total. There were also extremely large construction job losses in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. area, 44,200 jobs.
Association officials said new federal infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, transit and rail systems, like those proposed in a new transportation bill released today by House Democrats, would provide a needed boost to construction employment in many parts of the country and support a broader economic recovery.