Jobs market growth disappoints in April

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The latest Employment Situation Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that jobs categories of interest to builders and operators of multifamily housing eked out employment gains in April.

Growth in total employment slows

The BLS reported that the US unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in April, with total non-farm employment increasing by 266,000 jobs, well below expectations. The labor force participation rate is now at 61.7 percent, up slightly for the month but down 1.6 percent from February 2020. The number of people employed on non-farm payrolls is still 8.2 million lower than it was before the pandemic.

The BLS reported more detailed employment information on four job categories of interest to the multifamily industry. These are employment as residential construction workers, as specialty trades within residential construction, as residential property managers and as lessors of residential buildings. The latest figures for the latter two categories are for the month of March.

The first chart shows the long-term history of the levels of employment in these four jobs categories. It shows the contrast between the long, deep contraction in employment after the housing bubble burst and the short, sharp contraction in employment when the economy was shut down in response to COVID-19.

employment growth numbers

The construction jobs rise slightly

Employment in residential building construction in April, usually with general contractors, was down 0.2 percent from the revised employment level for March at 869,200 jobs. This is despite March’s figure being revised downward by 2,200 jobs. Employment in this category is now 3.5 percent higher than its level in February 2020, before the effects of the pandemic were felt.

Employment in residential building trades, i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc., in April was up 0.2 percent from March’s revised figure to a level of 2,158,400. However, March’s employment level was revised downward by 3,600 jobs, accounting for most of the “rise”. The employment level in this category is 0.8 percent above its level in February 2020.

Total employment in these two categories of residential construction jobs combined was up 0.1 percent in April from the month before.

Jobs up in apartment operations

Employment for residential property managers in March was up 0.5 percent from its revised level for February at 486,900 jobs. Employment was also up from its February 2020 level by 1.1 percent.

Employment for lessors of residential buildings fell by 0.1 percent in March to a level of 357,400 jobs. Employment in this category is now down 2.6 percent from its pre-pandemic level.

Total employment in these two categories combined was up 0.2 percent for the month but is still 0.8 percent below its level in February 2020.

Zooming in

The final chart, below, presents the employment data in a slightly different format. It normalizes the employment levels in all four jobs categories to a reading of 100 for January 2015. This shows more clearly the relative magnitudes of the job losses during the shutdowns and strengths of the subsequent recoveries.

employment growth numbers

The numbers given in the Employment Situation report are seasonally adjusted and are subject to revision. It is common for small adjustments to be made in subsequent reports, particularly to the data for the most recent month. The current Employment Situation report can be found here.