Illinois has recovered its construction job losses from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the improvements are slowing relative to other states as the overall national economy recovers.
Federal employment data gathered by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America indicates that Illinois construction employment declined by 12,400 jobs between February and October, 2020.
However, a year later in October 2021, the jobs total is 228,700 — a gain of 600 construction jobs from before the pandemic, and coincidentally, the same number in the month previously.
The state gained 600 jobs (0.3%) in October, bringing the overall number of jobs to 228,700 (compared to 913,300) before the pandemic. This ranks the state 15th nationally for the month.
In national rankings, the state ranks 14th in the 20 months of the pandemic, and 27th in October, reflecting one-month data.
Overall, Illinois is one of only 16 states and the District of Columbia have added construction jobs since just before the start of the pandemic, the AGC reported, in a press release that slammed the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better bill passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 20. (The AGC’s position on this legislation sharply contrasts with its support for the “hard” infrastructure bill signed into law by Biden earlier in the month.)
“Although activity picked up in most states in October, construction employment remains below pre-pandemic levels in two out of three states,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The record number of job openings shows contractors are eager to hire more workers but can’t find enough qualified applicants.”
From February 2020—the month before the pandemic caused projects to be halted or canceled—to last month, construction employment decreased in 33 states, stalled in Hawaii, and increased in only 16 states and D.C. Texas shed the most construction jobs over the period (-46,400 jobs or -5.9 percent), followed by New York (-42,800 jobs, -10.5 percent) and California (-21,300 jobs, -2.3 percent). The largest percentage losses were in Wyoming (-14.0 percent, -3,200 jobs), New York, and Vermont (-9.8 percent, -1,500 jobs),
Utah added the most construction jobs since February 2020 (8,200 jobs, 7.2 percent), followed by North Carolina (7,700 jobs, 3.3 percent), Washington (4,900 jobs, 2.2 percent), and Idaho (4,900 jobs, 8.9 percent). The largest percentage gains were in South Dakota (10.5 percent, 2,500 jobs), Idaho, and Utah.
From September to October construction employment decreased in 14 states, increased in 34 states and D.C., and was unchanged in Alabama and Virginia. South Carolina lost the most construction jobs over the month (-1,900 jobs, -1.7 percent), followed by Missouri (-1,500 jobs, -1.2 percent). The largest percentage decline was in New Hampshire (-2.2 percent, -600 jobs), followed by Vermont (-2.1 percent, -300 jobs).
Louisiana added the largest number and percentage of construction jobs between September and October (8,200 jobs, 7.1 percent). California was second in construction job gains (7,500 jobs, 0.8%), while West Virginia had the second-highest percentage increase (2.3 percent, 700 jobs).
Association officials asserted in their statement that the Build Back Better legislation will undermine the construction sector’s recovery. “They noted that the measure’s tax and labor provisions will stifle investments in construction activity and make it even harder for firms to find qualified workers to hire,” the AGC statement said. “They urged Senators to reject the massive new spending bill.”
“The last thing Washington should be doing is making it even harder for firms to find projects to build or workers to hire,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Yet the hyper-partisan Build Back Better bill will hobble employers with new mandates even as it stifles private sector demand with new taxes and regulations.”