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AGC's Data DIGest: April 3-7, 2017

Construction jobs edge up in March; spending, metro employment rise in February

Editor’s note:  Construction Citizen is proud to partner with AGC America to bring you AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson's Data DIGest. Check back each week to get Ken's expert analysis of what's happening in our industry.

Nonfarm payroll employment in March increased by 98,000, seasonally adjusted, from February and by 2,185,000 (1.5%) year-over-year (y/y), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported today. The unemployment rate declined to 4.5% from 4.7% in February. Construction employment increased by 6,000, following a 59,000-job jump in February, the largest one-month gain in 11 years. The March total (6,882,000) was the highest since November 2008 and was up 177,000 (2.6%) from March 2016. Average hourly earnings in construction increased 2.4% y/y to $28.55, or 9.2% higher than the average for all private-sector employees ($26.14, a y/y gain of 2.7%). The unemployment rate in construction, not seasonally adjusted, dipped from 8.7% in March 2016 to 8.4%, and the number of unemployed jobseekers whose last job was in construction inched down from 768,000 in March 2016 to 764,000. The rate and number were each the lowest for March since 2001.

Construction spending totaled $1.193 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in February, an increase of 0.8% from the January rate and 3.0% year-over-year (y/y) from the February 2016 rate, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. The total was the largest since April 2006 (without adjusting for inflation) and just 1.0% below the February 2006 record of $1.205 trillion. Private residential spending in February increased 1.8% for the month and 6.4% y/y. New multifamily construction increased 11% y/y; new single-family construction rose 3.4% y/y; and residential improvements climbed 9.6% y/y. Private nonresidential spendingslipped 0.3% from January but increased 7.5% y/y. By subsegment, in descending order of February size, power (electric power plus oil and gas pipelines and field structures) rose 9.4% y/y; manufacturing skidded 9.8% y/y; commercial (retail, warehouse and farm) added 14% y/y; office jumped 25% y/y; and health care dipped 0.1% y/y. Public construction climbed 0.6% for the month but tumbled 8.0% y/y. Of the three largest public components, highway and street construction fell 5.1% y/y; educational construction edged up 0.5% y/y; and transportation (transit, passenger rail, ports and airports) plunged 10% y/y.

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, rose from February 2016 to February 2017 in 239 (67%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS provides construction employment data, fell in 72 (20%) and was stagnant in 47, according to an AGC release on Tuesday. (BLS combines mining and logging with construction in most metros.) The largest gains occurred in Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (9,000 construction jobs, 10%), followed by Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (7,600 construction jobs, 7%), Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (7,300 construction jobs, 11%) and the Dallas-Plano-Irving division (7,100 combined jobs, 5%). The largest percentage gains again occurred in Grand Forks, N.D.-Minn. (37%, 1,000 combined jobs) and Lewiston, Idaho-Wash. (36%, 400 construction jobs), followed by Lake Charles, La. (27%, 4,800 construction jobs) and Pocatello, Idaho (21%, 300 combined jobs). The largest job losses again were in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land (-2,500 construction jobs, -1%), followed by Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade (-1,800 construction jobs, -4%) and the Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, N.J. division (-1,300 combined jobs, -4%). The largest percentage losses occurred in Cleveland, Tenn. (-21%, -400 combined jobs), followed by Danville, Ill. (-20%, -100 combined jobs) and Casper, Wyo. (-19%, -600 construction jobs). (Not-seasonally-adjusted data should not be compared to other months.)

Census released annual population estimates for counties, metro areas and micropolitan areas on March 23. Maricopa County, Ariz. (home to Phoenix) gained the most people (81,360, 2.0%) of any county between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016, followed by Harris, Texas (Houston), with 56,587 (1.2%); and Clark, Nev. (Las Vegas) with 46,375 (2.2%). Harris had been the top gainer for the previous eight years in a row. Among counties with a population of 10,000 or more, the fastest-growing was San Juan, Utah (7.6%, 1,188 people), followed by Kendall, Texas (5.2%, 2,088) and Hays, Texas (5.1%, 9,896). Census cited "notable high-population counties [that] continued to see population loss: Cook County, Ill. (Chicago): -21,324; Wayne County, Mich. (Detroit): -7,696; [and] Baltimore city, Md.: -6,738." Population growth over time is a major driver of numerous types of construction demand, state and local funding, and construction labor supply. Conversely, areas with declining population may be locations for recruiting workers. "The nation's 382 metro areas contained approximately 277.1 million people in 2016, [86%] of the nation's population [and] an increase of [2.3 million people or 0.8%] from 2015. For the fourth year in a row, The Villages, Fla. [west of Orlando], was the nation's fastest-growing metro area [4.3%]. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, metro areas were the two largest numeric-gaining metro areas between 2015 and 2016, increasing by more than 100,000 each. Four metro areas were among both the 25 fastest-growing and the 25 largest numeric gaining between 2015 and 2016: Austin-Round Rock, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla.; and Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise....The nation's 551 micro areas contained approximately 27.7 million people in 2016, [9%] of the nation's population. This is an increase of approximately 16,000" (0.1%). Brookings Institution demographer William Frey commented in a blog post on March 30 that these estimates "emphasize the re-emergence of earlier migration trends. That is, the sharp recession-related downturn in migration flows–from Snow Belt to Sun Belt, from large metros to small areas, and from urban cores to suburban enclaves—are back on the rise and perhaps will be for the foreseeable future. In addition, there is some evidence that long-distance migration of young adult Millennials is finally picking up."

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