WASHINGTON, Nov. 3—The not seasonally adjusted national construction unemployment rate dropped 2.6% in September 2021 from a year ago while 49 states had lower unemployment rates over the same period, according to state-by-state analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today by Associated Builders and Contractors. Only one state, Alaska, had a higher estimated rate than it did in September 2020.

While not fully recovered to its pre-pandemic level, national NSA construction employment was up 209,000 from September 2020. Seasonally adjusted construction employment remained at 201,000, or 2.6% below its February 2020 peak, before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the employment numbers. This was better than national, seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment, which was 3.3% below its February 2020 peak as of September.

The national NSA construction unemployment rate increased from 3.2% in September 2019 to 4.5% in September 2021. Over that same period, 22 states had lower construction unemployment rates, two states—Arkansas and West Virginia—were unchanged and 26 states had higher rates.

“The construction industry is struggling with supply chain issues like spikes in steel prices, extended delivery time for roofing materials and shortages of desired appliances for new homes and offices,” said Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D., president and chief economist of Markstein Advisors, who conducted the analysis for ABC. “These problems have been exacerbated by a shortage of skilled workers. Nonetheless, employment in construction has increased as projects have moved forward despite these obstacles. Construction remains one of the relative bright spots in the economy as the nation continues to recover from its pandemic lows.”

Recent Month-to-Month Fluctuations

National and state unemployment rates are best evaluated on a year-over-year basis because these industry-specific rates are not seasonally adjusted. However, due to the changing impact from the COVID-19 pandemic and related shifts in public policy, month-to-month comparisons offer a better understanding of the pandemic’s effect on construction employment in what has been a rapidly changing economic environment.

Since the data series began in 2000, the difference between the September and August national NSA construction unemployment rates were almost evenly split. For 10 years the readings were down, for nine, up, and for two, unchanged. This year, it was down by 0.1%. Twenty-four states had lower estimated construction unemployment rates than in August, 17 states had higher rates and nine had the same rate.

The Top Five States

The five states with the lowest September 2021 estimated NSA construction unemployment rates were:

  1. Nebraska, 1.1%
  2. Georgia and Utah (tie), 1.2% 
  3. Idaho, 1.4%
  4. Oklahoma, 1.5%

The Bottom Five States

The states with the highest September 2021 estimated NSA construction unemployment rates were:

  1. Rhode Island, 7%
  2. Alaska, 7.3% 
  3. New Mexico, 7.6%
  4. New Jersey, 8%
  5. New York, 8.4%

Three of these states—New Jersey, New Mexico and New York—were in the bottom five in August.

Click here to view graphs of overall unemployment rates (Tab 1) and construction unemployment rates (Tab 2) showing the impact of the pandemic, including a graphing tool that creates a chart for multiple states.

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