Construction employment declined in the District of Columbia and every state except South Dakota in April, an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of new government data shows. At the same time, the association released a new survey that finds that rising project cancellations are forcing many firms to furlough or terminate employees even as federal relief measures help avoid further job losses. Association officials urged Washington officials to act quickly on measures like new infrastructure funding, liability protections for employers and extending the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Today’s state employment report shows how widespread — and deep — the job losses have been among construction workers, despite a smattering of new or accelerated projects,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Meanwhile, our latest survey indicates that the paycheck loan program has enabled some companies to retain or add workers for now, but that relief will expire soon if not extended.”
The economist said the loss of 975,000 construction jobs, or 13 percent, nationwide from March to April pushed down industry employment to multiyear lows in many states. New York experienced the largest construction job loss over the month (-166,200 jobs or -40.8 percent). Vermont had the largest percentage decline (-46.3 percent, -6,800 construction jobs). South Dakota was the only state to add construction jobs over the month (500 jobs, 2 percent).
Simonson noted that the association’s latest survey found that more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the 742 respondents report having a project canceled or delayed since the start of the outbreak in early March. An increasing share of respondents reported that projects they expected to start in June or later had been canceled: 24 percent in the May 18-21 survey, compared to 20 percent in the association’s May 4-7 survey and 16 percent in the April 20-23 survey.
He noted that project cancellations have forced 30 percent of firms to furlough or terminate employees. But an equal share has added workers, including some firms that laid off employees earlier, according to the survey.
“The Paycheck Protection Program, which provides no-cost loans for firms to cover payroll expenses for a short time, appears to have achieved the goal of helping contractors retain or add workers for now,” he added.
Association officials warned that the Paycheck Protection Program benefits will end soon unless Congress acts to extend it. They also called on Congress to pass funding for highways and other infrastructure and to provide liability protections for employers following safety guidelines from coronavirus lawsuits. And they cautioned against extending unemployment supplements, noting that 43 percent of firms that recalled furloughed staff said some workers declined to report because of the supplemental unemployment benefits.
“Washington’s temporary relief measures appear to have helped the construction industry avoid even more layoffs,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Now Congress and the administration need to focus on measures that will revive the economy, rebuild demand for construction and restore American jobs.”