December Construction Unemployment Rates Improve in 32 States from 2014

By Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D.

Unusually mild weather in much of the country persisted in December, benefiting construction and reducing the size of the normal seasonal increase in construction unemployment rates. This was the warmest, or one of the warmest, Decembers on record for most cities in the eastern half of the country. Not seasonally adjusted (NSA) construction unemployment rates for the country and 32 states were lower than in December 2014. The construction unemployment rates for three states—Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska—were unchanged from a year ago.

For the year, national employment in construction increased by 273,000. Meanwhile, the year-over-year change in the national NSA construction unemployment rate continued its string of consecutive declines for each month dating back to October 2010. The U.S. rate was down 0.8 percent in December 2015 from a year ago.

NSA unemployment rates generally have a seasonal pattern with the national NSA construction unemployment rate typically increasing from November to December. While the national construction unemployment rate did increase from November to December, as it has every year from 2000 to 2014, the 1.3 percent increase was below the 2 percent average increase for those years.

View states ranked by their construction unemployment rate

View states ranked by their year-over-year improvement in construction employment.

View each states' unemployment rate for all industries.

The Top Five States
The top five states with the lowest construction unemployment rates in December in order from lowest rate to highest rate were:

1.    Colorado
2.    Georgia
3.    Virginia
4.    New Hampshire
5.    Texas

Four states—Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire and Virginia—were among the top five in November. The unseasonably warm weather in the East helped Georgia, New Hampshire and Virginia turn in low construction unemployment rates. Texas also benefited from relatively mild December weather.

Colorado’s number one ranking, with a 4.3 percent estimated construction unemployment rate, was up from fourth lowest rate in November based on revised data (previously reported with the second lowest rate ). The state generally had average temperatures for the month (the eastern part of the state had somewhat above normal temperatures), with significant periods above freezing.

Colorado appears to have shaken off the effects of a major snow storm that occurred on December 15. That storm arrived on the week following the reference week used in the survey for the employment status of individuals. Consequently, any impact on employment from the storm would not have been captured in the official government figures or the estimate of December construction unemployment rate for Colorado. While the state’s NSA rate rose in December, the increase was only 0.4 percent, well below the December average increase of 1.6 percent from 2000 through 2014.

Georgia posted the second lowest construction unemployment rate with an estimated 4.4 percent rate. In November, Georgia also had the second lowest rate, tied with Iowa, based on revised data (previously reported as tied for third lowest rate with Virginia ).

Iowa’s construction unemployment rate jumped by 4.2 percent from November, not an unusual occurrence for the state, but the second highest monthly increase among the states. This was mainly due to an unusually low November construction unemployment rate rather than any unusual seasonal deterioration in construction employment in the state. Further, Iowa had the third largest drop among the states in its construction unemployment rate from December 2014 (down 3.9 percent). The net result was to leave the state near the middle of the pack with the 27th lowest unemployment rate.

Virginia had the third lowest rate with a 4.7 percent rate. In November, the state had fifth lowest rate based on revised data (previously reported as tied for third lowest rate ).

New Hampshire fell from lowest rate in November to fourth lowest rate in December with a 4.9 percent construction unemployment rate.

In spite of the continued slowdown in energy due to low oil prices, Texas had the fifth lowest construction unemployment rate—5.2 percent. That compared to the 11th lowest rate in November (tied with Utah) based on revised data (previously reported as tenth lowest rate also tied with Utah ). Utah slipped to 13th lowest with a 6 percent rate (tied with South Carolina).

View the top five and bottom five states ranked by construction unemployment rate.

View states ranked by their monthly improvement in construction employment.

The Bottom Five States
The five states with the highest construction unemployment rates (from lowest to highest) were:

46.    Illinois
47.    New Mexico
48.    North Dakota
49.    Wyoming
50.    Alaska

Four of the five states with the highest estimated construction unemployment rates in December—Alaska, Illinois, New Mexico and North Dakota—were among the five highest in November. Alaska had the highest rate for the third month in a row, which may be expected given the time of year and that these are NSA rates. Nonetheless, Alaska’s 15.9 percent rate was the state’s second lowest December rate (after last year’s 15.8 percent rate) going back to December 2002.

Wyoming had the second highest rate with a 14.4 percent construction unemployment rate. In November, Wyoming had the 12th highest rate. The state had the second largest December year-over-year increase in its rate (3.5 percent) and the largest monthly increase (6.3 percent).

For the second month in a row, North Dakota posted the third highest construction unemployment rate with a 13.9 percent rate in December. In a reversal from the heady days of the energy boom led by fracking, North Dakota had the third highest increase (3 percent) among the states in its construction unemployment rate from December 2014.

New Mexico’s 12.8 percent rate was the fourth highest rate in December. That was an improvement in its ranking from November when it had the second highest rate. However, the state’s 3.8 percent rate increase from December 2014 was the largest among the states.

Illinois’ 11.9 percent rate was the fifth highest estimated construction unemployment rate for the second consecutive month. Its December rate matched its 2014 December unemployment rate. The December 2014 and 2015 rates were its lowest December construction unemployment rates since 2006.

View regional breakdowns of the construction unemployment rates of each state.

To better understand the basis for calculating unemployment rates and what they measure, see the article
Background on State Construction Unemployment Rates.