Construction News

Wed July 28 2021

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US contractors call for action to boost labour supply

5 Jul Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) is calling on the US government to end the unemployment supplements that it says are keeping people out of the workforce.

AGC's Stephen Sandherr
AGC's Stephen Sandherr

Spending on non-residential construction in the USA continued to decline in May amid supply chain & labour challenges, according to analysis by AGC.

AGC is urging the Biden administration to allow unemployment supplements to expire, take steps to address supply chain backups and remove tariffs on key materials so that firms can perform more work.

Overall construction spending declined in May compared to April. This was driven by continued drops in non-residential construction activity as firms struggle with supply chain disruptions, rising materials prices and labour shortages, according to AGC’s analysis of new federal construction spending data.

“Many construction firms would likely be even busier if only they could find materials for their projects and workers for their teams,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Ending a programme that is basically paying people not to work will help, especially if the administration also removes tariffs that are driving prices up on key construction materials.”

Construction spending in May totalled US$1.55 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, a decrease of 0.3% from the pace in April, but 7.5% higher than the pandemic-depressed rate in May 2020. As has been true for the past several months, residential construction saw year-over-year gains while non-residential construction spending lagged, AGC found. The residential construction segment climbed 0.2% for the month and 28.2% year-over-year.

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Private non-residential construction spending fell 1.1% from April to May and 5.8% since May 2020, with year-over-year decreases in all 11 sub-segments. The largest private non-residential category, power construction, fell 1.2% year-over-year and 1.6% from April to May. Among the other large private non-residential project types, commercial construction—comprising retail, warehouse and farm structures - retreated 2.6% year-over-year and 0.7% for the month. Manufacturing construction fell 3.2% from a year earlier and 2.7% from April. Office construction decreased 8.3% year-over-year but remained flat from April.

Public construction spending plunged 8.7% year-over-year and 0.2% for the month. Among the largest segments, highway and street construction declined 4.3% from a year earlier, although spending rose 1.4% for the month. Public educational construction decreased 14.2% year-over-year and 1.9% in May. Spending on transportation facilities fell 10.4% over 12 months and 1.9% in May.

Association officials noted that firms in states that have ended the unemployment supplements have experienced an increase in the number of workers looking for employment. They added that firms in other parts of the country are still struggling to find qualified workers to hire.

In addition, supply chain backups and rising materials prices are also hurting the industry

The association has released the third edition of its Construction Inflation Alert to inform project owners and government officials about the threat to project completion dates and contractors’ financial health. “Being able to find workers is important, but contractors also need materials delivered on time and at a reasonable cost, to be successful,” said Sandherr.

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