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March 1983, Vol. 106, No. 3
Employment changes in construction:
secular, cyclical, and seasonal
John Tschetter and John Lukasiewicz
About 5.8 million persons, or 5.8 percent of the U.S. work force were employed by the construction industry in 1982. Their unemployment rate was 16.5 percent of the construction labor force (or 1.1 million persons), a rate double that for all industries combined. Have these workers traditionally had such high unemployment rates? What are the trends in the industry? And, how do business cycles and seasonal patterns affect construction activity?
Over the 1950-80 period, construction employment grew at about the same rate as total employment. However, during recessions, construction employment declined more than total employment, and during recoveries, it generally took longer to recoup. Seasonality, an important factor in construction activity, could cause employment to rise and fall by as many as 1 million workers over a 12-month period. However, the movement of jobs to the Sun Belt over the last three decades has helped to alleviate the effects of seasonally on unemployment in the industry.
This article evaluates labor problems in the construction industry by examining the industry's long-term employment trends and its reaction to business cycles and seasonality. For this article, construction industry and occupational employment data include wage-and-salary, self-employed, unpaid family, and government workers.1 In addition, construction occupations include workers outside the construction industry as well as those in the industry. For some construction occupations, more than 50 percent of the workers are employed outside the construction industry. (See table 1.)
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1 This article uses numerous data sources. The principal source for the construction industry and construction-related occupation is the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) which is compiled from household interviews and which provides details on the characteristics of persons employed and unemployed during a given month. These employment and unemployment data are tabulated both by industries and by occupations. The CPS, in its March supplement, provides information on the number of weeks worked, the number of employers, and the number of spells of unemployment during a 12-month period. The principal source for the supplying industries and for regional trends is the Bureau of Labor Statistics establishment survey. This survey, which is complied from employer records, provides current information on wage-and-salary employment in the private and public sectors.
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