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AGC's Data DIGest: May 15-22, 2017

Most states add jobs in April; Dodge, ConstructConnect, Census post mixed starts data

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.

Seasonally adjusted construction employment rose in 39 states from April 2016 to April 2017, held steady in North Carolina and West Virginia, and fell in nine states and the District of Columbia, an AGC analysis of BLS data released on Friday showed. Nevada had the largest percentage gain (13%, 9,700 jobs), followed by New Hampshire (10%, 2,600), Rhode Island (10%, 1,800) and Oregon (9.0%, 8,000). The most jobs added were again in California (38,000, 4.9%) and Florida (34,400, 7.4%), followed by Washington (11,200, 6.1%) and Nevada. The steepest percentage losses again occurred in Mississippi (-8.1%, -3,600 jobs), D.C. (-7.5%, -1,200) and Alaska (-6.6%, -1,100). The largest number of job losses again occurred in Illinois -6,600, -3.0%) and Mississippi. For the month, employment rose in 21 states, shrank in 27 states, and was flat in D.C., Rhode Island and Washington. Employment set a record in Nebraska. (AGC's rankings are based on seasonally adjusted data, which in D.C., Nebraska and five other states is available only for construction, mining and logging combined.)

Reports last week from Dodge Data & Analytics, ConstructConnect and the Census Bureau again provided contradictory data on construction starts year-to-date (YTD), not seasonally adjusted, in January through April compared to the same months of 2016. The value of new construction starts dropped 13% from March to April at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, following three straight monthly increases, Dodge reported on Friday. "Much of April's slide for total construction reflected a steep 39% plunge by its nonbuilding construction sector, which had been lifted in March by the start of two large pipeline projects... residential building slipped a more moderate 5% in April, and nonresidential building receded only a slight 1% as it basically held steady with its pace in February and March. During the first four months of 2017 total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were...down 4% from last year's January-April period. If the volatile manufacturing plant and electric utility/gas plant categories are excluded, total construction starts during the first four months of 2017 would be up 4% compared to last year." Residential starts were flat YTD, nonresidential building starts rose 5% and nonbuilding starts plummeted 21%.

The value of nonresidential construction starts decreased 1.6% YTD through April, data provider ConstructConnect reported on May 15. Nonresidential building starts (65% of the YTD total) slumped 13%. Commercial building starts fell 11%; institutional building starts slipped 5%; and the small industrial building starts segment tumbled 43%. Heavy engineering (civil) starts (35% of the total) jumped 30%.

Housing starts in April declined 2.6 % at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from the March rate but increased 5.3% YTD through April, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday. Single-family starts climbed 0.4% for the month and 7.0% YTD. Multifamily (buildings with 5 or more units) starts dropped for the third month in a row, by 9.6%, but rose 2.9% YTD. Building permits, a fairly reliable predictor over time of near-term starts, declined 2.5% for the month but increased 5.7% YTD. Single-family permits jumped 10% YTD. Multifamily permits decreased 2.6% YTD.

Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) by state increased in every state and D.C. in the fourth quarter of 2016, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported on May 11. "Real GDP by state growth ranged from 3.4% in Texas to 0.1% in Kansas and Mississippi....Real GDP growth slowed to 1.5% in 2016 after increasing 2.6% in 2015. Real GDP grew in 43 states and [D.C. and] ranged from 3.7% in Washington to -6.5% in North Dakota." In the fourth quarter, construction supplie 0.03% of the 1.9% gain in real GDP, with positive contributions in 34 states and D.C. (led by Nevada, 0.48%), negative contributions in 16 states (as much as -0.68% in North Dakota), and no net impact in Nebraska. For the year, construction contributed 0.14% of the 1.5% pickup in real GDP, with gains in 37 states and D.C. (led by Idaho, 0.59%) and decreases in 13 states (as much as -0.82% in North Dakota).

Construction and extraction were the most common occupations in 2016 for employed foreign-born workers, whowere twice as likely to work in those occupations as native-born workers, a BLS release on Thursday showed. For both sexes combined, 9.1% of employed foreign-born workers and 4.5% of employed native-born workers were in construction and extraction occupations. The second-most common occupation for employed foreign-born workers out of 22 occupations was management (8.7%), closely followed by building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (8.2%). For foreign-born employed men, 15.1% were in construction and extraction occupations, vs. 8.3% of native-born employed men. The second-most common occupation for foreign-born employed men was transportation and material moving occupations (10.4%), closely followed by management occupations (9.7%). Only 0.6% of employed foreign-born women were in construction and extraction occupations, but this was double the percentage of native-born women (0.3%). Thus, restrictions or deportations affecting foreign workers are likely to have a disproportionately large impact on construction trades.

"In 2016, total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) reached a record 3.217 trillion miles (3% growth over 2015)," the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported in This Week in Petroleum on May 10. The agency projects "annual growth in VMT averaging 1.1% per year over 2015-25." But because it foresees continuing increases in fuel economy, EIA projects "light-duty vehicle energy consumption decreasing 10%" over that period. That implies a steep drop in both federal and state fuel tax revenues for highway construction in the absence of indexing or statutory rate increases.

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