Construction employment increased in 26 states and Washington, D.C., from February to March, yet only Arkansas and North Dakota have more construction workers than they did a year ago, according to a new analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Arlington, Va., of federal employment figures recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The employment figures, while offering room for optimism, underscore how far the industry is from a recovery, association officials say.

“It's too early to tell whether these numbers reflect the start of a positive trend or the impact of a warm March following a snowy February,” says Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “Even assuming the numbers are heading in the right direction, it is a long climb just to get back to normal for the construction industry.”

Simonson notes that between February and March, 26 states and Washington, D.C., added construction jobs. Maryland added the most (5,200), followed by Pennsylvania (4,900), New York (4,300), Missouri (4,100), and Indiana (3,500). During the same period, 22 states lost jobs, and construction employment was unchanged in two states. Texas lost the most jobs (-6,300), followed by Louisiana (-5,200), Nevada (-4,600), Arizona (-2,900), and Colorado (-2,600).

The state construction employment picture is significantly bleaker when measured year-over-year, between March 2009 and March 2010, says Simonson, noting that 48 states and Washington, D.C. (see states shaded in blue on map) lost construction jobs in that time period. Among the states losing construction jobs last year, California (-108,500) lost the most, followed by Florida (-57,000), Illinois (-32,800), Washington (-31,200), and Ohio (-29,400). Only Arkansas (300) and North Dakota (100) added construction jobs (see states shaded yellow on map) from March 2009 to March 2010. Twenty-eight states experienced double-digit percentage declines in construction employment over the past year. Nevada (-30.0%) and Colorado (-20.3%) experienced the highest percentage declines in construction employment over the past year.

AGC officials say they expect stimulus-funded work to provide a needed boost for the construction industry this year, but they caution that continued declines in private sector and state and local construction activity are likely to exceed the amount of stimulus-funded work. “As much as the stimulus helps, until broader demand for construction expands, our industry will be lucky just to tread water,” says Simonson.

Download the AGC analysis of the BLS employment figures from the AGC website at http://newsletters.agc.org/datadigest/files/2010/04/state-empl-201003-alpha2.pdf.