The February 2018 not seasonally adjusted (NSA) national construction unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, down 1 percent from February 2017 and the lowest national February rate on record, according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released by ABC. Estimated construction unemployment rates were down in 34 states on a year-over-year basis, unchanged in one state (Arizona) and up in 15 states.
At the same time, the construction industry employed 273,000 more workers than in February 2017.
“Construction activity continues to be positive in much of the country, resulting in healthy demand for construction workers,” said Bernard M. Markstein, Ph.D., president and chief economist of Markstein Advisors, who conducted the analysis for ABC. “Above-average February temperatures over much of the eastern part of the country, along with below-normal precipitation rates among several southeast and western states, were likely contributing factors to the industry’s good February performance. The shortage of skilled construction workers continues to be a significant drag on construction activity. However, recent building materials price increases, particularly for steel and aluminum, pose an additional, serious threat to future construction activity.”
Because these industry-specific rates are not seasonally adjusted, national and state-level unemployment rates are best evaluated on a year-over-year basis. The monthly movement of the rates still provides some information, although extra care must be used in drawing conclusions from these variations.
From the beginning of the data series in January 2000 through February 2017, the national NSA construction unemployment rate from January to February has increased 11 times, decreased six times and been unchanged once (February 2003). The rate for February 2018 adds another reading to the increase side, up 0.5 percent. Among the states, 32 were up, 16 were down and two (Connecticut and Oklahoma) were unchanged from January.
The Top Five States
The states with the lowest estimated NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest to highest were:
1. Idaho, 4.1 percent
2. Colorado, 4.3 percent
3. Hawaii, 4.6 percent
4. Virginia, 4.8 percent
5. Louisiana, 4.9 percent
Two of the top states were in the top five in January: Hawaii and Virginia.
Idaho posted the number-one ranking, up from tied with California for tenth lowest rate in January. It was the state’s lowest February rate since the beginning of the estimates in 2000. Further, Idaho tied with North Dakota for the second largest monthly decline, down 1.9 percent.
Colorado had the second lowest February rate. That was an improvement from seventh lowest in January based on revised data (previously reported as tied with Georgia, South Carolina and Utah for the fourth lowest rate). This was the state’s lowest February estimated rate since its 4.2 percent rate in 2000 and therefore its second lowest February rate on record.
Hawaii had the third lowest February construction unemployment rate, a decline in its ranking from tied with Texas for second lowest in January based on revised data (previously reported as the lowest rate). It was the state’s lowest February rate on record, matching its February 2006 rate. Note that Hawaii’s unemployment rate is a rate for construction, mining and logging combined. The data to estimate a construction unemployment rate alone are not available for Hawaii or Delaware.
Virginia posted the fourth lowest rate in February. That was down from the lowest rate in January based on revised data (previously reported as the second lowest rate). It was the Virginia’s lowest estimated February rate since its 4.5 percent rate in February 2006.
Louisiana had the fifth lowest February rate, jumping from tied with Maryland for the 21st lowest rate in January. It was the state’s second lowest estimated February rate on record behind its 4.1 percent rate in February 2006. Along with Alabama, Louisiana had the second largest year-over-year decrease in its rate, down 1.4 percent. Further, the state had the largest monthly decline in its rate, down 2.3 percent.
Texas, which tied with Hawaii for the second lowest rate in January based on revised data (previously reported as third lowest rate), dropped to seventh lowest in February, 5.7 percent.
Georgia, which along with South Carolina and Utah tied for the fourth lowest rate in January, fell to sixth lowest in February, with a 5.4 percent rate. Nonetheless, it was the Georgia’s lowest estimated February rate on record.
Meanwhile, South Carolina fell to the 14th lowest rate in February, tied with Mississippi, at 6.7 percent. Still, it was South Carolina’s second lowest February rate on record after last year’s 6.1 percent rate, matching the 2016 rate. Utah, with a 5.8 percent rate in February, dropped to eighth lowest, tied with Florida.
The Bottom Five States
The states with the highest NSA construction unemployment rates in order from lowest to highest were:
46. Pennsylvania, 12.6 percent
47. West Virginia, 14 percent
48. Montana, 15 percent
49. Rhode Island, 17.2 percent
50. Alaska, 25.9 percent
Four of these states—Alaska, Montana, Rhode Island and West Virginia—were also among the bottom five states in January.
For the seventh consecutive month, Alaska had the highest rate in the nation. Given that these estimates are not seasonally adjusted, a high construction unemployment rate for the state at this time of year is to be expected. This February was particularly brutal for Alaska as the state posted both the largest year-over-year increase in its rate, up 5.1 percent, and the largest monthly increase in the country, up 6.4 percent.
Rhode Island had the second highest rate in February, compared to the third highest in January. The state posted the third largest year-over-year increase in its construction unemployment rate, up 2 percent, and the second largest monthly increase in the country, up 3.5 percent.
Montana had the third highest estimated NSA construction unemployment rate in February, compared to fourth highest in January. The state had the second highest year-over-year increase in its rate, up 3.9 percent.
West Virginia had the fourth highest construction unemployment rate in February, compared to second highest in January. This was the state’s lowest February rate on record, matching its February 2013 rate.
Pennsylvania had the fifth highest rate in February, compared to the seventh highest rate in January. This was the state’s second lowest February rate on record, behind its 9.7 percent rate in 2006.
Illinois, which had the fifth highest rate in January, tied with Connecticut and New Mexico for the sixth highest rate in February with a 12.2 percent rate. This was Illinois’ second lowest February rate behind its 11.7 percent rate in 2006.
To better understand the basis for calculating unemployment rates and what they measure, see the article Background on State Construction Unemployment Rates.