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AGC's Data DIGest: Nov. 29-Dec. 7, 2018

Employment, pay climb in November; spending slips in October but rises from year ago

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 November increased by 155,000, seasonally adjusted, from October and by 2,443,000 (1.7%) year-over-year (y/y), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reportedtoday. The unemployment rate remained at a 49-year low of 3.7%. Construction employment rose by 5,000 for the month and 282,000 (4.0%) y/y to 7,312,000 (the most since April 2008 but 5.4% below the April 2006 peak). Average hourly earnings in construction rose 3.7% y/y to $30.28, or nearly 11% more than the private-sector average ($27.35, up 3.1% y/y). The number of unemployed jobseekers whose last job was in construction fell from 467,000 in November 2017, not seasonally adjusted, to 375,000 and their unemployment rate fell from 5.0% in November 2017 to 3.9%. Both the number and rate of unemployed experienced construction workers were the lowest November figures in series dating back to 2000.

Construction spending totaled $1.309 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in October, down 0.1% from the downwardly revised September rate but up 4.9% from October 2017, the Census Bureau reported on Monday. Public construction increased 0.8% for the month and 8.5% y/y. Of the three largest public segments, highway and street construction dipped 0.1% for the month but increased 5.2% y/y; educational construction climbed 2.6% and 9.2%, respectively; and transportation, -1.1% and 15% (36% y/y for state and local airport construction and 1.0% y/y for other public transportation—port, transit and passenger rail). Private nonresidential construction spending dipped 0.3% for the month but increased 6.4% y/y. Of the four largest components, power (electric power plus oil and gas pipelines and field structures) fell 2.4% for the month but rose 9.4% y/y; commercial, -0.6% and 0.6%, respectively (with retail, -9% y/y, and warehouse, 14% y/y); office, 3.1% and 16%; and manufacturing, -1.1% and 2.6%. Private residential spending slipped 0.5% in October but increased 1.8% y/y. New multifamily construction increased 1.0% and 3.2%, respectively; new single-family construction, -0.5% and 2.4%; and residential improvements, -0.9% and 0.6%.

"Most of the 12 Federal Reserve districts reported that their economies expanded at a modest or moderate pace from mid-October through late November, though both Dallas and Philadelphia noted slower growth compared with the prior Beige Book period," the Federal Reserve reported on Wednesday. The Beige Book is a compilation of informal soundings of business conditions in the 12 Fed districts, which are referenced by the name of their headquarters cities. "St. Louis and Kansas City noted just slight growth....New home construction and existing home sales tended to decline or hold steady, while construction and leasing of nonresidential structures tended to rise or remain flat. On balance, prices rose at a modest pace in most districts, although a few noted moderate increases. Nearly all reported that input costs rose faster than final goods prices. Reports of tariff-induced cost increaseshave spread more broadly from manufacturers and contractors to retailers and restaurants." AGC compiled all construction-related comments.

Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, increased between October 2017 and October 2018 in 281 (78%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which BLS provides construction employment data, fell in 43 (12%) and was unchanged in 34, according to an AGC analysis posted on November 29. (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 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land (25,600 construction jobs, 12%), followed by Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (16,700 construction jobs, 14%), the Dallas-Plano-Irving metro division (13,100 combined jobs, 9%), Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (11,700 construction jobs, 16%) and Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (10,300 construction jobs, 8%). The largest percentage gains occurred in Midland, Texas (25%, 7,200 combined jobs), followed by New Bedford, Mass. (22%, 600 combined jobs); Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va.-Ohio (21%, 400 combined jobs); Lewiston, Idaho-Wash (20%, 300 construction jobs) and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford. The largest job losses again were in the Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, N.J. sub-area (-3,900 combined jobs, -10%), followed by Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (-2,100 combined jobs, -3%) and Sacramento—Roseville—Arden-Arcade (-1,500 construction jobs, -2%). The largest percentage losses were in Laredo, Texas (-10%, -400 combined jobs) and Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, followed by Spokane-Spokane Valley, Wash. (-8%, -1,100 combined jobs). Employment was at a record high for October in 72 metros (dating back in most areas to October 1990); two areas set a new October low.

BLS posted several articles recently listing the number of employees now and projected in 2026in construction occupations, by type of construction or level of training or education. These include: "Careers in construction: Building opportunity"; "The employment outlook for occupations tasked with building America's infrastructure"; "Employment outlook for high school-level occupations" and "Employment outlook for occupations that don't require a formal educational credential."

Census posted tables on November 28 that track 2017 migration flows between regions by industry, among other characteristics. For instance, Table 13 shows that 21,000 construction industry employees moved from the Northeast (12,000 to the South, 8,000 to the Midwest and 1,000 to the West); 12,000 from the Midwest (11,000 to the South and 1,000 to the West); 22,000 from the South (18,000 to the West, 3,000 to the Northeast and 1,000 to the Midwest) and 12,000 from the West (nearly all to the South). These data provide a rough idea of where firms may be most likely to find workers willing to move.

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