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AGC's Data DIGest: March 16-23, 2021

Compared to 2020, January employment and February starts decline in most states and metros

Seasonally adjusted construction employment in January trailed the pre-pandemic February 2020 level in 42 states, exceeded it in eight states and held steady in the District of Columbia, according to AGC’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data posted on Monday. Texas lost the most construction jobs over the 11-month span (-51,900 jobs or -6.6%), followed by California (-36,200, -4.0%), New York (-26,000, -6.4%), and Louisiana (-19,200, -14%). Louisiana experienced the largest percentage loss, followed by Wyoming (-9.6%, -2,200 jobs) and West Virginia (-8.1%, -2,700). Idaho added the most jobs (4,500, 8.2%), followed by Utah (3,300, 2.9%) and Arkansas (1,900, 3.6%). Idaho also added the highest percentage, followed by Arkansas, Alaska (3.0%, 500 jobs) and Utah. Construction employment decreased from December to January in 19 states and D.C., increased in 27 states and was unchanged in Alaska, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming. California had the largest loss of construction jobs for the month (-4,000 or -0.5%), followed by South Carolina (-3,200, -3.0%) and Illinois (-3,200, -1.4%). South Carolina had the largest percentage decline, followed by Wisconsin (-2.4%, -3,000 jobs). Florida added the most construction jobs over the month (3,500, 0.6%), followed by Texas (3,000, 0.4%) and Oklahoma (2,400, 3.1%). Vermont had the largest percentage gain for the month (3.4%, 500 jobs), followed by Idaho (3.3%, 1,900) and Oklahoma. Unusually mild weather in January 2021 may have contributed to increases. BLS made annual “benchmarking” revisions to past state and metro data. (BLS reports combined totals for mining, logging and construction in D.C., Delaware and Hawaii, along with most metro areas, to avoid disclosing data about industries with few employers; AGC assumes the construction-only percentage change in these areas equals the combined change.)

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, decreased between January 2020 and January 2021 in 225 (63%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS posts construction employment data, increased in 92 (26%) and was unchanged in 41, according to an analysis AGC released today, The largest y/y losses occurred again in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land (-32,900 construction jobs, -14%); New York City (-23,000 combined jobs, -15%) and Midland, Texas (-11,100 combined jobs, -29%). Lake Charles, La. had the steepest percentage decline (-40%, -8,100 construction jobs), followed by Odessa, Texas (-37%, -7,600 combined jobs; and Midland, Texas. Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade had the largest y/y gains (3,500 construction jobs, 5%), followed by Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson (3,100 construction jobs, 6%); Boise (2,500 combined jobs, 9%) and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett (2,100 construction jobs, 2%). Sierra Vista-Douglas, Ariz. had the highest percentage increase (42%, 1,000 combined jobs), followed by Bay City, Mich. (18%, 200 combined jobs) and Auburn-Opelika, Ala. (15%, 400 combined jobs).

Two measures of construction starts (dollars) posted decreases in February on both a y/y basis and for the latest 12 months over the previous 12. “Total construction starts fell 2% in February [at] a seasonally adjusted annual rate,” Dodge Data & Analytics reported on Tuesday. “Nonbuilding construction starts posted a solid gain after rebounding from a weak January, however, residential and nonresidential building starts declined, leading to a pullback in overall activity….For the 12 months ending February 2021 total nonbuilding starts were 13% lower than the 12 months ending February 2020. [Total] nonbuilding starts were 15% lower…, street and bridge starts were 4% higher,…while environmental public works starts were up 1%. Miscellaneous nonbuilding fell 26% and utility/gas plant starts were down 37%....[N]onresidential building starts dropped 28% compared to the 12 months ending February 2020. Commercial starts declined 30%, institutional starts were down 19%, while manufacturing starts were down 15%. [Total] residential starts were 4% higher…Single-family starts gained 12%, while multifamily starts were down 15%.”

Starts declined 17% y/y from February 2020 to February 2021, data firm ConstructConnect reported on Monday. Nonresidential building starts plunged 49% y/y. Engineering (civil) starts decreased 14%. Residential starts jumped 11%. For the 12 months ending February 2021, total starts were 20% lower than in the 12 months ending in February 2020. Nonresidential building starts plummeted 36% on a 12-month over 12-month basis (commercial, -44%; industrial [manufacturing], -66%; and institutional, -17%). Engineering (civil) starts slumped 20%. Residential starts slipped 0.3% (apartments, -28%; single-family, 11%). The firm reported that among office starts, it “has been keeping track of data center projects since 2018. Over the past three years, 307 such projects have been identified. In 2018, the U.S.-wide sum of their value was $5.3 billion; in 2019, $5.6 billion; and in 2020, $4.4 billion.”

ConstructConnect and Oxford Economics on Tuesday introduced historical data and forecasts for construction spending for “nearly 50 construction types across public and private [sectors;] coverage of national total, all 50 states plus Washington D.C., more than 400 metros and 3,000 counties; consistent with put-in-place spending data published by the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Housing starts (units) slid 10% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from January to February and 9.3% y/y from February 2020, Census reported on Thursday. Multifamily (five or more units) starts slumped 14% for the month and 28% y/y. Single-family starts decreased 8.5% for the month but edged up 0.6% y/y. Starts in winter months can be heavily affected by unseasonably mild or harsh weather in the current or comparison months. Residential permits skidded 11% from January but jumped 17% y/y, as single-family permits slumped 10% for month but increased 15%, y/y, while multifamily permits fell 12% for the month but rose 24% y/y.

The Data DIGest is a weekly summary of economic news; items most relevant to construction are in italics. All rights reserved. Sign up at www.agc.org/datadigest.