Flattening the Curve

Nearly one million U.S. construction jobs were lost in April

Unemployment rates skyrocketed as coronavirus has left construction sites deserted. (robbyj/Unsplash)

With construction sites across the country still closed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic (although some are slowly reopening), it’s no wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly figures for April 2020 were as dismal as they were.

Released May 8, the latest labor figures point to a precipitous drop in construction jobs across the United States. 975,000 construction workers lost their jobs in April, with specialty trade contractors bearing the worst losses (691,000 jobs), while building construction lost 206,100. These numbers are part of a broader economic trend that’s left U.S. unemployment at 14.7 percent, with 20.5 million non-farmworkers without jobs, but is still the worst single month decline in construction employment ever reported. Unemployment in the industry is currently at 16.6 percent, higher than the national average and up from 6.9 percent in March of this year.



It should be noted that the bureau’s figures were compiled in mid-April, and as such, don’t necessarily reflect the situation on the ground at the time of writing, when some projects have begun to restart. Still, given the most recent Architecture Billings Index figures which saw design demand, an indicator of future interest, basically bottom out, any recovery to the construction sector will take time to manage.

Construction as a whole for the near future looks to be on shaky ground, as economic uncertainty is causing developers both public and private to rethink their projects as debts mount.

On the architecture and engineering side of things, which the bureau accounts for separately, 85,200 jobs were lost in April. This also shouldn’t come as a surprise, as firms enact furloughs to keep their costs down while facing their own uncertainty, as even civic and institutional projects, long thought of as safe harbors for architecture practices, have begun implementing project freezes.

If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, check out last week’s coronavirus column, where we’ve compiled unemployment resources to help out-of-work AEC professionals both monetarily as well as mentally.

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