Best Cities for Construction Workers

The construction industry plays a vital role in the national economy. In April 2019, the total annualized value of construction work in the U.S. was approximately $1.3 trillion, making construction one of the nation’s largest industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,962,640 employed construction workers in 2018 (not including self-employed), representing 4.1 percent of total employment in U.S. firms.

Like most other sectors of the economy, construction spending retracts during economic downturns. In particular, the construction industry suffered a major blow during the Great Recession. Employment for construction workers (including the self-employed) dipped from a peak of 9,785,000 in July 2007 to 6,734,000 in April 2012. As of April 2019, the total number of employed and self-employed construction workers was about 8,274,000. An estimated 23 percent of all construction workers are self-employed.

Due to the boom or bust nature of construction, the unemployment rate for construction workers tends to be higher than the overall unemployment rate. In 2018, the construction worker employment rate was 5.1 percent, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 3.9 percent. In 2010, the unemployment rate gap was even larger: 20.6 percent for construction workers and 10.5 percent overall.

Even though employment in the construction industry is still below pre-recession levels, it has grown rapidly in recent years. Between 2015 to 2018, employment in construction occupations grew by 8 percent, higher than the 5 percent average employment growth across all occupations. Furthermore, the BLS predicts that employment growth for construction workers will outpace the national average growth rate for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. In this time frame, construction jobs are expected to grow 11 percent compared to 7.4 percent across all occupations.

Since bottoming out in 2011, construction spending has increased 64 percent. During that time, growth in residential construction outpaced that of nonresidential, a reflection of a stronger real estate market and increased demand for affordable housing. In 2018, 42.2 percent of construction spending was in residential, up from 34.0 percent ten years earlier. New residential construction spending per construction worker amounts to $45,060 per construction worker per year.

Amid rapid growth, the construction industry provides above average wages but doesn’t require a college degree, making it an attractive option for many workers. Nationwide, the median hourly wage for a construction worker is $22.12, compared to the $18.58 median wage across all occupations. However, certain locations offer better conditions for construction workers than others. At the state level, the highest concentration of construction jobs are in the Southwest and Mountain-Plains regions rather than coastal states. Unemployment rates, hourly wages, construction spending, and cost of living also vary from location to location.

Narrowing down to the city level paints an even more specific picture of how location affects conditions for construction workers. To identify the best metropolitan areas for construction workers, researchers at Construction Coverage analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau to calculate a composite score based on the following metrics:

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers
  • Employment growth for construction workers
  • Construction spending per construction worker
  • Cost of living
  • Unemployment rate for all workers

Only the 100 most populous metropolitan areas were included in the analysis. Most of the metro areas that scored highest are located in the West, Midwest, or South. None are located in the Northeast. Here are the 20 best cities for construction workers in 2019.

The 20 Best Metros for Construction Workers

Florida Jacksonville HT5T6T

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20. Jacksonville, FL

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $18.30
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 27.2%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $96,499
  • Cost of living: -4.6% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.3%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 18% above average
California Sacramento state capitol F5F97B

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19. Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $25.43
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 32.1%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $44,273
  • Cost of living: 2.0% above average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.8%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 17% above average
Indiana Indianapolis KWPHPX

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18. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $22.75
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 15.6%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $56,417
  • Cost of living: -8.0% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.2%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -7% below average
Wisconsin Madison MPKK08

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17. Madison, WI

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $25.05
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 5.7%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $59,675
  • Cost of living: -3.2% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.2%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -13% below average
North Carolina Charlotte GBXCW6

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16. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $18.72
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 27.2%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $94,992
  • Cost of living: -6.2% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.7%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 2% above average
Iowa Des Moines E8GE0E

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15. Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $22.32
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 11.4%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $67,234
  • Cost of living: -6.5% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.3%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 3% above average
California Stockton S1MY3F

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14. Stockton-Lodi, CA

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $26.58
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 32.3%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $58,554
  • Cost of living: -0.5% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 6.1%
  • Concentration of construction workers: About average
South Carolina Charleston ER4WM6 1

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13. Charleston-North Charleston, SC

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $18.58
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 32.2%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $92,435
  • Cost of living: -3.8% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.9%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 18% above average
South Carolina Greenville DTM793

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12. Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $17.86
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 13.9%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $114,516
  • Cost of living: -10.1% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.1%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -16% below average
Wisconsin Milwaukee P7MTFR

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11. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $27.57
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 14.7%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $27,728
  • Cost of living: -4.5% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.0%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -18% below average
Oregon Portland B5XDD2

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10. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $26.34
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 29.5%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $53,486
  • Cost of living: 1.7% above average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.9%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 14% above average
Colorado Colorado Springs K6FAGD

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9. Colorado Springs, CO

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $20.58
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 16.7%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $143,236
  • Cost of living: -0.4% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.9%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 10% above average
Tennessee Nashville EAN9K1

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8. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $18.95
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 22.5%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $113,675
  • Cost of living: -4.7% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.5%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -19% below average
North Carolina Durham FYE4P6

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7. Durham-Chapel Hill, NC

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $19.11
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 12.2%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $148,713
  • Cost of living: -4.8% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.6%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -48% below average
Florida Cape Coral K2WJNN

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6. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $17.68
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 50.9%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $87,258
  • Cost of living: -3.3% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.3%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 99% above average
Idaho Boise F5NJKM 1

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5. Boise City, ID

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $18.46
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 31.8%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $99,286
  • Cost of living: -5.8% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.6%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 39% above average
Missouri Saint Louis FHC9ED

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4. St. Louis, MO-IL

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $29.80
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 5.4%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $29,414
  • Cost of living: -8.6% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.6%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -4% below average
Illinois Chicago GWBF62

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3. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $36.31
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 5.5%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $25,197
  • Cost of living: 3.4% above average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 4.0%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -27% below average
Minnesota Minneapolis F47CET

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2. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $30.39
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 9.0%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $65,813
  • Cost of living: 2.2% above average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 3.0%
  • Concentration of construction workers: -21% below average
Utah Orem Provo M0RJND

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1. Provo-Orem, UT

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers: $21.25
  • Employment growth for construction workers: 36.3%
  • New residential construction spending per worker: $84,690
  • Cost of living: -3.1% below average
  • Unemployment rate for all workers: 2.7%
  • Concentration of construction workers: 98% above average

Methodology & Full Results

To identify the best metropolitan areas for construction workers, a composite score was calculated based on the following metrics:

  • Median hourly wage for construction workers
  • Employment growth for construction workers
  • Construction spending per construction worker
  • Cost of living
  • Unemployment rate for all workers

Median wage and employment data are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics Survey. Employment growth is the percent change in construction worker employment between 2015 and 2018. Unemployment rates (for all workers) are from April 2019.

Construction spending per construction worker is the total valuation of all new privately owned housing units authorized in 2018 divided by the number of construction workers employed in 2018. Construction spending data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Building Permits Survey.

Cost of living is from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Price Parities dataset. For the purpose of this analysis, construction workers include all wage and salary workers in nonfarm establishments working in Construction and Extraction Occupations. Data for self-employed persons are not included in the estimates. Only the 100 most populous metropolitan areas were included in the analysis. For a complete list of results, see the original version on Construction Coverage.

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