March jobless numbers grim for construction workers

Nobody is surprised by this, but the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the American economy lost another 663,000 jobs in March, bringing the total unemployment rate to 8.5 percent. Construction has been the hardest hit industry during this recession with an unemployment rate that now stands at 21.1 percent (not seasonally adjusted).

“This year alone, the construction unemployment rate has shot up a shocking 9.1 percent,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors. “These grim figures underscore the urgent need to turn stimulus announcements into contract awards. Getting as much work started as quickly as possible is the best way to get unemployed construction workers back on the job,” he says.

All true, but unfortunately most of the money in the stimulus bill is going toward creating and/or supplementing the pay of government workers or expanding government programs. Infrastructure projects get around 7 percent of the total, or about $60 billion. Health care gets $111 billion (half of which goes back into the government’s coffers anyway), education (all government) gets $141 billion and aid to the poor and unemployed gets $102 billion. There’s even a healthy $31 billion designated to modernize government buildings for energy efficiency.  So even if all the money for infrastructure stimulus gets delegated this year, it’s still not going to make much of a dent in the construction unemployment numbers.

For the record, the unemployment rate for government workers is less than 4 percent.