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Construction Employment Stalls in April, Materials Costs Rise Again, Inventories Shrink

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By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE

The level of construction employment remains virtually unchanged in St. Louis and across the U.S. as commercial and residential contractors contend with a prolonged scarcity of able workers and a still-choked building materials supply chain.

Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson says finding enough workers continues to be a feat, as reflected in workforce statistics from April. Augmenting the people shortage, he adds, are problems in getting stable prices and reliable deliveries of key materials.

“Contractors are experiencing unprecedented intensity and range of cost increases, supply-chain disruptions and worker shortages that have kept firms from increase their workforces,” said Simonson. “These challenges will make it difficult for contractors to rebound as the pandemic appears to wane.”

Construction employment in the U.S. during April totaled 7.45 million, matching March’s level but 2.6 percent below the most recent peak in February 2020. Simonson said the number of former construction workers (768,000) who were unemployed in April dropped by half from one year ago, and the sector’s unemployment rate fell from 16.6 percent in April 2020 to 7.7 percent last month.

“The fact that (construction) employment has stalled – despite strong demand for new homes, remodeling of all types and selected categories of nonresidential categories – suggests that contractors can’t get either the materials or the workers they need,” Simonson said, noting that many firms are reporting backlogs and rations of key materials.

Still in short supply, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s latest survey report, are steel and steel products (for five months now), PVC products (a three-month shortage), lumber and circuit breakers.

Price spikes continue relative to copper, wire, oriented strand board, lumber, wood products, resin products, PVC products, steel, diesel, aluminum, vinyl windows and roof shingles.

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