The construction industry is beginning to experience labor market tightness as it begins to recover from the recession caused by COVID-19, according to a new analysis from the construction services group at Marcum LLP, a New York-based national accounting and advisory services.

The 2020 Marcum JOLTS Analysis of construction employment trends reports that job openings fell to 195,000 in December, or approximately 2.6 percent of the available construction positions. The annual report extrapolates construction data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Turnover Survey.

According to Anirban Basu, author of the report and Marcum’s chief construction economist, spring 2020 job losses from the pandemic were expected to mitigate the skilled labor shortages, but that hasn’t panned out. Furthermore, the report states that 13,000 more workers quit their construction jobs in December 2020 than were laid off or discharged by their employers, marking only the 17th month in the past 20 years in which quits exceeded layoffs and discharges.

The report also notes that contractors in some regions of the country are struggling to find labor, which has driven up wages. Average hourly earnings of construction employees reached their highest level on record in January 2021 ($32.11), and average weekly hours worked rose to their highest level since third quarter of 2019. These changes, Basu says, are what might be expected from a strong economy operating under normal circumstances, but not one facing a lingering pandemic and elevated unemployment. Historically, some workers who lose their jobs during a recession do not return to the industry, the report states.

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