Weak report on construction employment in September

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construction jobs

The latest Employment Situation Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that employment in apartment operations jobs was higher in September than reported the month before but employment in residential construction jobs was lower.

Overall jobs number rise

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment increased by 263,000 jobs in September, based on their survey of business establishments. The BLS household survey reported that the US unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, reversing last month’s increase.

Compared to the revised levels from the previous month, the household survey found that the number of employed persons rose by 204,000 while the number of unemployed persons fell by 261,000.

The household survey found that the number of people in the civilian labor force fell by 57,000 in September after rising sharply last month. The adult population rose by 172,000, matching last month’s gain. These changes caused the labor force participation rate to tick down 0.1 percentage point to 62.3 percent. It had been at 63.4 percent before the pandemic. Recovering that 1.1 percent decline in the labor force participation rate would bring 2.9 million more people into the workforce.

Focus on multifamily

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. As usual, some of the data is reported with a month delay, so the latest figures for the latter two categories are for the month of August.

The first chart shows the long-term history of the levels of employment in these four jobs categories.

job growth levels

Construction employment falls – sort of

Employment in residential building construction in September, usually with general contractors, was reported to be effectively unchanged (-100 jobs).  However, the employment level for August was revised downward by an unusually large 2,700 to 900,900 jobs. Employment in this category is up 3.8 percent year-over-year and is now 7.4 percent higher than its level in February 2020.

Employment in residential building trades, i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc., in September was reported to be up 6,500 jobs (0.3 percent) from August’s revised (-5,000) figure at 2,274,400 jobs. Employment in this category is up 3.5 percent year-over-year and is now 6.5 percent above its level in February 2020.

Total employment in these two categories of residential construction jobs combined was up 0.2 percent in September from the revised level of the month before but was down 1.3 percent from the preliminary level reported last month. Construction employment was 6.7 percent above its level in February 2020.

Apartment operations jobs rise

Employment for residential property managers in August was reported to be up by 1,800 jobs (0.4 percent) from its revised (+600) level for July to 496,400 jobs. Without the revision, the preliminary figure for August is up by 2,400 jobs from the preliminary figure for July reported last month. Employment for residential property managers is up 2.7 percent year-over-year and is up from its February 2020 level by 3.2 percent.

Employment for lessors of residential buildings was reported to rise in August by 1,000 jobs to a level of 364,500 jobs. In addition, the prior month’s employment figure was revised upward by 200 jobs. Employment in this category is up 3.5 percent year-over-year and is now 1.1 percent below its pre-pandemic level.

Total employment in these two categories combined was reported to be up 0.3 percent for the month from the revised levels of the month before and is now 1.3 percent above 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 presentation makes recent changes in employment levels in these categories more visible.

relative job growth rates

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.