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Construction Chart Book

Chart Book (6th edition): Employment and Income – Employment and Unemployment in Construction and Other Industries

20. Employment and Unemployment in Construction and Other Industries

Total construction employment (including construction workers in the private and public sectors, the self-employed, and unpaid family members) fluctuated over the last two decades.1 After reaching a peak of 11.8 million in 2007 and falling to 8.9 million in 2012 due to the recession, the total employment in construction recovered to 9.9 million by 2015 (chart 20a). Payroll employment (wage-and-salary workers only) in construction 2 parallels these trends, peaking at 7.7 million in 2006, dropping to 5.5 million in 2010, and then rising to nearly 6.5 million by the end of 2015.

Payroll employment in construction has experienced greater expansion and contraction than overall nonfarm industries on average. From 1992 to 2006, payroll employment in construction grew at4.8% annually (except during the short recession period in the early 2000s), compared to 2.2% average annual growth across nonfarm industries (chart 20b). From 2008 to 2009, payroll employment dropped by 16% in construction, but decreased by 4% for overall nonfarm industries. Payroll employment started to recover after 2011; from 2014 to 2015, the year-over-year increase was 5% in construction and 2% in all nonfarm industries.

Payroll employment in construction subsectors followed the overall industry trend. Employment in the Specialty Trade Contractors sector (NAICS 238; see page 1 for NAICS codes and definitions) grew most rapidly, increasing by 82% from 1992 to 2006, but decreasing quickly over the following years, and at the close of 2011 was just 29% higher than in 1992 (chart 20c). Employment in this subsector rebounded; by 2015, the level was 53% higher than in 1992. In the Construction of Buildings sector (NAICS 236), employment increased by 52% through 2006, and fell to near the 1992 level in 2011 before rising to 19% above the 1992 level in 2015. Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (NAICS 237) was the subsector least affected by the economic cycle. By 2015, its employment had climbed 27% above the 1992 level.

Payroll employment data by detailed NAICS are available from 2001 onward. Employment in the Residential Building Construction sector (NAICS 23611) increased rapidly — by 29% from 2001 to 2006 — but fell by 28% below the 2001 level in 2011 (chart 20d). In contrast, employment in Nonresidential Building Construction (NAICS 23621 and 23622) decreased over the same period, with small increases during 2007 and 2008 that were quickly lost by 2011. By 2015, both Residential and Nonresidential Building Construction sectors were rising again but neither had recovered to 2001 levels.

Residential Specialty Trade Contractors (NAICS 238001) followed a similar arc. From 2001 to 2006, employment in this subsector increased from 1.8 million to nearly 2.4 million, and then dropped below 1.5 million by the end of 2011 (chart 20e). It rose again after the recession, and reached 1.8 million by 2015. The expansion, decline, and subsequent rebound of employment in residential construction mirrors the boom and bust of the U.S. housing market during the same period (see page 6).

Unemployment statistics also reflect the cyclical fluctuation of construction employment.3 The unemployment rate reached its highest point in early 2010, and the gap in unemployment between construction and other nonfarm industries increased during the recession (chart 20f). In February 2010, the unemployment rate in the construction industry reached 27.1%, more than double the average rate for all nonfarm industries. After 2011, the unemployment rate in the construction industry began declining. At 7.5% by the end of 2015, it was the lowest monthly rate since 2007. The unemployment rate in construction also reflects the seasonal nature of the industry, which results in greater fluctuations on a monthly basis, as illustrated in the chart.


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1. Total employment data were calculated using the Current Population Survey (see page 10).

2. Data on payroll employment were obtained from the Current Employment Statistics (CES). CES is a monthly survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, providing employment, hours, and earnings estimates based on payroll records of business establishments. Employment data refer to persons on establishment payrolls who worked or received pay for any part of the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month. The data excludes proprietors, the unincorporated self-employed, unpaid volunteer or family employees, farm employees, and domestic employees. Government employment covers only civilian employees. More information on the CES is available online at

3. Unemployed workers are those who had no employment during a given week, were available for work (except for being temporarily ill), and had tried to find employment (or were waiting to be recalled from temporary layoff) during the four-week period ending with the reference week (see page 10 for more information).

NoteAll charts – Data cover all construction occupations, including managers and clerical staff.

Chart 20f – The tick marks for each year on the x-axis indicate the month of January.

Source: Chart 20a – Data on all types of employment: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 and previous years Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center. Data on payroll employment: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 and previous years Current Employment Statistics.

Charts 20b-20e – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 and previous years Current Employment Statistics. Employment, Hours, and Earnings – National. (Accessed March 2016).

Chart 20f – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 and previous years Current Population Survey. Unemployment Rates. (Accessed March 2016).


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