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Construction Jobs: Gains In N.M., Very Slight Declines In Arizona, Nevada

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From December to January, construction jobs were slightly down in Nevada and Arizona, and slightly up in New Mexico, according to statistics made public this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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In Nevada, there were about 59,500 jobs in January up from 58,300 jobs in December, and reflecting a 4.4% year-over-year increase on the month. The state’s overall unemployment rate was 8.7% in January, down from 9% December. Nevada’s civilian labor force numbered 1,367,600 in January, up from 1,364,700 in December.

In Arizona, there were about 125,000 construction jobs in January, down from 125,300 construction jobs in December, while reflecting a 3.1% year-over-year increase on the month. Arizona’s overall unemployment rate (adjusted) was slightly off from 7.6% in December to 7.5% in January. Arizona’s civilian labor force numbered 3,004,000 in January, up from 2,998,400 in December.

In New Mexico, there were about 42,200 construction jobs in January, up from 42,000 in December, with flat seasonally adjusted year-over-year trend in construction jobs on the month. New Mexico’s overall unemployment rate was flat from December to January at 6.6%. Its civilian labor force numbered 927,700 in January, up from 923,700 in December.

“The industry went so far down with the financial recession that started back in 2008, and so for quite a while you had a lot of workers that had come into the desert Southwest, into places like Las Vegas and Phoenix because they were just booming,” said Neil Opfer, of the Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction faculty at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

After the work slowed down, much of the labor force left to follow demand for their skills.

“We had a lot of workers that came in, for example, from Mexico to the desert Southwest, a lot of Hispanic workers especially in the residential construction industry. When the residential industry fell off a cliff, a lot of those workers went back to Mexico,” Opfer said. “And one of the things that is happening with the Mexican economy, manufacturing has been doing good down there and skilled employees were coming out of Mexico. But those workers have not necessarily come back to the United States.”

For example, in order to accommodate recently increased demand as the framing and concrete construction market has picked up, WestCor Construction, which has several hundred employees in Las Vegas and Southern California, began seeking out their former employees who were let go during the downturn, Opfer said.

Many construction workers have since followed demand for their work in places like Texas and North Dakota and they are skeptical about returning to the Southwest.

“They don’t want to come down and get laid off in six months for a job that may not be there anymore,” he said.

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