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AGC's Data DIGest: April 29-May 3, 2019

Construction employment climbs steeply in April; most spending grows in March

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 April increased by 263,000, seasonally adjusted, from March and by 2,620,000 (1.8%) year-over-year (y/y) from April 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The unemployment rate was 3.6%, down from 3.8% March and the lowest rate since December 1969. Construction employment increased by 33,000 for the month and 256,000 (3.5%) y/y to 7,486,000, the highest mark since December 2007. Average hourly earnings in construction rose 3.1% y/y to $30.60, 10.2% above the average for all private-sector employees ($27.77, a 3.2% y/y increase). The unemployment rate in construction, not seasonally adjusted, fell to 4.7% from 6.5% in April 2018), and the number of unemployed jobseekers with construction experience declined to 439,000 (down from 623,000). These were the lowest April figures in the 20-year history of both series. (Not-seasonally-adjusted data may be affected by normal weather and holiday patterns and thus should not be compared to levels in other months.) The industry's record-low April unemployment is an indication that contractors would have hired more employees if they could find them.

Construction spending totaled $1.282 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in March, down 0.9% from the upwardly revised February rate and down 0.8% from March 2018, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. Public construction declined 1.3% for the month but increased 81.6% y/y. Of the three largest public segments, highway and street construction fell 1.9% for the month but jumped 13% y/y; educational construction declined 1.5% from February but increased 5.8% y/y; and transportation gained 0.3% for the month and 5.2% y/y. Private residential spending slid 1.8% in March and 8.4% y/y. New multifamily construction climbed 0.7% and 11%, respectively; new single-family construction fell 1.5% and 8.2%; and residential improvements slumped 3.1% for the month and 14% y/y. Private nonresidential spending rose 0.5% in March and 2.1% y/y. Of the four largest components, power gained 1.3% for the month and 4.2% y/y (comprising electric power, up 2.0% y/y, and oil and gas pipelines and field structures, up 11%); commercial slumped 2.6% for the month and 8.6% y/y (comprising retail, down 19% y/y, and warehouse, up 3.7%); manufacturing jumped 2.5% in March and 11% y/y; and office rose 0.8% and 7.5%, respectively. 

AGC posted updated fact sheets about construction in each state and the District of Columbia. Each sheet shows the construction industry's share of the state's economy, wages and salaries, and small businesses; nonresidential construction spending; state and metro construction employment; and relative pay for the construction industry and top occupations. In addition, AGC posted construction employment and share of total employment for each state and congressional district, including rankings of the top 10 states and districts by number and percentage of construction employees.

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, increased between March 2018 and March 2019 in 218 (61%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS provides construction employment data, fell in 83 (23%) and was unchanged in 57, according to an analysis AGC released on Wednesday. (BLS combines mining and logging with construction in most metros to avoid disclosing data about industries with few employers.) The largest gains again occurred in Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (13,800 construction jobs, 11%); Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (7,600 construction jobs, 6%) and the Dallas-Plano-Irving division (7,400 combined jobs, 5%). The largest percentage gain again occurred in Monroe, Mich. (26%, 500 combined jobs), followed by Chico, Calif. (22%, 800 combined jobs); St. Cloud, Minn. (18%, 1,000 combined jobs) and Yuba City, Calif. (18%, 400 combined jobs). The largest job loss occurred in the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights division (-3,100 construction jobs, -3%), followed by Kansas City, Kans. (-2,000 combined jobs, -10%) and Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine division (-2,000 construction jobs, -2%). The largest percentage loss again occurred in Danville, Ill. (-20%, -100 combined jobs), followed by Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich. (-19%, -500 combined jobs) and Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J. (-17%, -1,000 combined jobs). Employment hit a record high for March in 62 metros (dating back in most areas to 1990); two areas set a new March low.

The employment cost index, a measure of compensation (wages, salaries and benefits, including required payments), which BLS released on Tuesday for the first quarter (Q1) of 2019, increased in the construction industry by 0.8% from Q4 2018, seasonally adjusted, up from a gain of 0.6% the previous quarter. Over the past four quarters, compensation increased 2.9% (up from 2.4% a year earlier). The index for wages and salaries in the construction industry increased by 0.7% in both Q1 and Q4 and by 2.9% over four quarters (vs. 2.7% a year earlier).

The National Association for Business Economics reported on Monday that only 53% of 102 corporate and association economists in its latest quarterly survey expect growth of inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) to exceed 2% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020. That share is down from 67% of respondents who expected real GDP growth to exceed 2% in the previous survey, which covered the outlook from Q4 2018 to Q4 2019. Of the 78 respondents to a question regarding expected capital spending on structures at their firms in the next three months, 23% expect an increase and 9% expect a decrease. The difference between these shares—a net positive reading of 14%—was the most positive since January 2017.

Data DIGest is a weekly summary of economic news. All rights reserved. Sign up at http://store.agc.org. Editor: Ken Simonson, Chief Economist, AGC, simonsonk@agc.org