Economic Snapshot | Jobs and Unemployment

What does construction have to do with it?

We often hear that our high unemployment is the result of the housing boom and the need to shift unemployed construction workers into new fields, which takes time and training. Construction employment has fallen dramatically since the housing bubble burst, but construction worker unemployment is neither what raised the unemployment rate nor what prevents it from falling as rapidly as we would want. The graph makes this clear by showing the overall unemployment rate and the unemployment rate excluding construction.

In the early aftermath of the housing collapse in 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, just one-tenth of a percentage point higher than if there were no construction sector. By 2011, the unemployment rate had risen to 8.9 percent and would have been 8.6 percent without construction. The rise in unemployment from 2007 to 2011 was 4.3 percentage points (going from 4.6 percent to 8.9 percent) and would have risen 4.1 percentage points without any construction sector (from 4.5 percent to 8.6 percent). Thus, just 0.2 percentage points of the overall 4.3 percentage-point rise in unemployment can be attributed to higher construction worker unemployment; that is, construction-sector unemployment is responsible for less than 5 percent of the overall rise in unemployment between 2007 and 2011.

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