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AGC Data DIGest: April 12-16, 2021

Construction employment, starts rebound in March but lag year-ago levels in most states and sectors

Seasonally adjusted construction employment in March trailed the March 2020 level in 35 states, exceeded it in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and was unchanged in Mississippi, according to AGC’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data posted today. Texas again lost the most construction jobs over 12 months (-35,400 jobs or -4.5%), followed by New York (-29,300, -7.2%), Louisiana (-16,500, -12%), and New Jersey (-14,500, -8.9%). Wyoming recorded the largest percentage loss (-13%, -2,900 jobs), followed by Louisiana, New Jersey, and Nevada (-8.1%, -8,000). Utah again added the most jobs (6,400, 5.6%), followed by Idaho (3,900, 7.0%), and Washington (2,200, 1.0%). Idaho again added the highest percentage, followed by Utah. For the month construction employment in March in 39 states—many of which were battered by severe weather in February—slipped in 10 states, and held steady in New Hampshire and D.C. Nevada lost the largest number and percentage of construction jobs for the month (-1,300 or -1.4%). Texas added the most construction jobs over the month (19,100 jobs, 2.6%), followed by New York (10,000, 2.7%), Minnesota (7,900, 6.8%), and Iowa (7,500, 10%). Iowa had the largest monthly percentage increase, followed by Kansas (10%, 6,000) and Minnesota. Seasonally adjusted constructed employment reached a record high in Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington, in series dating back to 1990. (BLS reports combined totals for mining, logging and construction in D.C., Delaware and Hawaii.)


Two measures of construction starts (dollars) posted year-to-date decreases for the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 compared to January-March 2020, despite a strong pickup from February to March that was boosted by more favorable weather. “Total construction starts rose 2% in March [at] a seasonally adjusted annual rate,” but unadjusted starts declined 4% year-to-date, Dodge Data & Analytics reported today. “A solid gain in nonresidential building starts [13%] fueled the March gain, while growth in residential starts was minuscule [0.1%] and nonbuilding starts fell [-7%].” Year-to-date starts plunged 27% for nonresidential building but increased 13% for residential building and 2% for nonbuilding.


Construction starts, not seasonally adjusted, declined 3.8% year-over-year (y/y) from March 2020 to March 2021, data firm ConstructConnect reported on Wednesday. Year-to-date starts for Q1 2021 combined fell 12% from Q1 2020. Year-to-date residential starts slipped 1.2% (apartments, -22%; single-family, 7.7%). Total nonresidential starts slumped by 20%. Nonresidential building starts plunged 28% (commercial, -44%; industrial [manufacturing], -1.1%; and institutional, -16%). Engineering (civil) starts decreased 6.3%. The largest specific project types declined: road/highway, -5.0%, and school/college, -28%.


Housing starts (units) rebounded 19% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from February to March and 37% y/y from March 2020 to the highest rate since 2006, the Census Bureau reported today. Year-to-date starts for Q1 2021 climbed 10% from Q1 2020. Multifamily (five or more units) starts jumped 30% for the month but declined 8.7% year-to-date. Single-family starts rose 15% and 20%, respectively. Residential permits increased 2.7% from February and 23% year-to-date, as single-family permits rose 4.6% and 25%, respectively, while multifamily permits fell 3.6% for the month but rose 20% year-to-date.


Cost increases and supply-chain problems continued this week. A major steel producer notified customers of a further $50/ton jump for structural steel prices on Tuesday and $100/ton for “HSS, pipe, mechanical and piling products” on Wednesday. A supplier of fiberglass “tanks, stacks, ducts, pipes, and similar equipment” notified customers on Wednesday that “crippling shortages of…raw materials (such as resins)…are forcing major suppliers to declare force majeure.” Readers are invited to send cost and supply-chain information to ken.simonson@agc.org.


On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released the latest “Beige Book,” a compilation of informal soundings of business conditions in each of the 12 Fed districts, based on information collected February 23-April 5. The U.S. summary noted, “Reports on commercial real estate and construction varied, with activity in the hotel, office, and retail segments generally remaining weak….The pace of job growth varied by industry but was generally strongest in manufacturing, construction, and leisure and hospitality.…Wage growth accelerated slightly overall, with more significant wage pressures in industries like manufacturing and construction where finding and retaining workers was particularly difficult. Input costs rose across the board, but especially in the manufacturing, construction, retail, and transportation sectors—specifically, metals, lumber, food, and fuel prices. Cost increases were partly attributed to ongoing supply chain disruptions, temporarily exacerbated in some cases by winter weather events.” AGC posted construction-related excerpts from each district.


The Construction Labor Research Council issued its annual Union Labor Costs In Construction report on Tuesday, analyzing union contracts among nine regions and 18 craft classifications. In 2020 the hourly rate for the total package of all negotiated employer payments contained in the wage sheet (e.g., wages, health & welfare, retirement, apprenticeship, industry advancement) averaged $59.10. “Wages made up the majority of the total package at $35.16 (59%). Of the fringe benefits, retirement was the largest category at $11.67 (20%), followed by health & welfare at $8.78 (15%). The ‘Other’ category, which includes vacation, apprenticeship, unallocated and all other payments, was $3.49 (6%).” The average package ranged from $39.42 in the South Central region to $69.45 in the Southwest Pacific. By craft, total package average rates ranged from $45.95 for roofers to $70.62 for boilermakers. The share of the total package accounted for by wages and various benefits also varied considerably by craft.