FILE — Seattle construction crane

A worker talks on a radio as he stands at the end of a high-rise construction crane with the iconic Space Needle in the background, in downtown Seattle, as viewed from the 66th floor of the Columbia Center. 

(The Center Square) – Three Puget Sound cities saw construction jobs increase by 5% in the past year despite the pandemic-induced recession.

New data released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) shows work in the construction industry fell by 57% between March of 2020 and March of 2021. It used government employment data to find the changes. The report blames supply chain disruption, canned projects and the soaring cost of building materials.

Statewide, Washington saw construction employment rise 2%, adding 222,000 jobs to the state economy. Seattle, Bellevue, and Everett combined for a 5% growth in construction jobs. Seattle alone added 5,300 new construction jobs and the Tacoma-Lakewood area came in a close second with a 4% increase.

Most metropolitan areas have not seen as much success. The AGCA reports that less than a third of the 358 urban areas it studied saw construction job growth since the onset of the pandemic.

The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land in Texas shed the most construction jobs in the same 12-month period–31,000–marking a decline of 13%. New York City came in second at 24,000 lost construction jobs, followed by Midland, Texas at 10,000.

Industry data shows construction is getting more expensive across the board. Last month, a report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) blamed rising costs for building materials like lumber adding $24,000 to the average new home price. 

“Nearly twice as many metros have lost construction jobs as gained them in the past 12 months, even though homebuilding has recovered strongly and the overall economy is in much better shape than it was a year ago,” said AGCA chief economist Ken Simonson. “Nonresidential construction is still at risk of further declines in much of the country.” 

Washington was among the states which shut down construction projects when it enacted its initial stay-at-home orders in March of 2020. Construction resumed in June of 2020 with social distancing and face mask rules required. The state Department of Health reports construction sites as the fifth most common source of COVID outbreaks, with 237 cases to date behind the retail, manufacturing, childcare and foodservice industries.

Washington’s unemployment rate in March stood at 5.6% or almost double what it was in the weeks preceding the pandemic, the state Employment Security Department reports. Reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest many businesses in Washington lost to COVID shutdowns may not return.

The construction industry is essential to the state. Some 72% of households are priced out of the housing market. In 2020, the median price of a Washington home was $522,023, according to the NAHB. Estimates peg the state’s housing deficit at 225,000 units—a rate reflective of the million new residents Washington has welcomed since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Washington remains under an eviction moratorium through the end of June.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.