May 26, 2017

New Mexico Construction Employment Registers Significant Gain


The New Mexico construction industry has seen the creation of more than 6,000 new jobs in the last five years.

The latest numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the state’s total construction job numbers at 47,000, which is a significant jump from the 43,400 of a year ago, but also an improvement over this February’s 44,500.

“The numbers are pretty strong, especially after 2016, which had some ups and downs,” notes Joy Forehand, deputy cabinet secretary at the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

In its most recent labor market information release, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions notes that New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April of this year was 6.7 percent, but within that overall number “construction posted the largest percentage gain, and the second-largest numeric gain, of all industries.”

But Forehand is reluctant to assign a larger meaning just yet to those numbers, noting “We still have to watch this industry pretty closely in the next couple of months in order to see if there is a trend.”

One factor does appear certain: New Mexico’s construction employment upswing, which is in no small way helped by the first-phase construction of the big Facebook data center being built in Los Lunas, mirrors a larger national trend seeing increased construction employment in 29 states between April 2016 and April 2017.

“We are now up to 6.9 million nationally, and that’s good,” notes Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Associated General Contractors of America.

“But we are still 11 percent below the all-time peak,” continues Simonson. 

That peak was hit in April 2006.

After that came the Great Recession, with “construction falling longer than in any other industry and not really bottoming out until January of 2011,” says Simonson.

That means in sum, a historic 30 percent decline in construction jobs during those 5 years.

The national construction job rebound has seen 38,000 new jobs in the last year in California, 34,400 new jobs in Florida, and 11,200 new jobs in Nevada.

The swiftest declines in construction employment over the last twelve months were posted in Illinois, which lost 6,600 jobs; Mississippi, down by 3,600 jobs; and Maryland, off by 1,400 jobs.


At the other end of the scale, according to the BLS, New Mexico saw an 8.3 percent increase in its construction job numbers during the first quarter of this year, giving it a fifth place ranking nationally behind Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Oregon.

But that ranking put New Mexico ahead of such usually construction-booming states as Florida, with a 7.4 percent increase, California at 4.9 percent, and Texas, at less than 1 percent.

Arizona during that same April 2016 to April 2017 period registered a 4.9 percent construction job increase, while Colorado came in with a 1.6 percent jump.

According to industry analysts, renewable energy, residential housing, and commercial construction, are all expected to add construction jobs for the foreseeable future, while electric utilities construction and manufacturing construction are forecast to continue their current downward trend.

Overall, the national construction industry is expected to see a 4.5 percent growth rate in the next several years.

But Simonson says that’s both good and bad.

“The national labor market has tightened,” he says. “It has gotten increasingly competitive across the whole labor force spectrum to find workers.”

One of the reasons for that is the large number of construction workers during the Great Recession that couldn’t find work and eventually moved into other industries, as well as Baby Boomers who in the last few years have been retiring in record numbers.

“This means that there is now a big gap,” says Simonson, “because as the older ones retire, in many cases there isn’t a middle tier to move up, simply due to the fact that many of those people may have left the business during the recession—and that’s a problem for the industry.”


By Garry Boulard

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