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AGC's Data DIGest: September 16-20, 2019

D.C., 39 states add construction jobs through August; ABI slides; housing starts surge

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Seasonally adjusted construction employment increased from August 2018 to August 2019 in 39 states and the District of Columbia and declined in 10 states and was unchanged in Mississippi, Bureau of Labor Statistics data released show. AGC posted analysis and a revised set of state construction fact sheets. Texas added the most construction jobs over the year (43,900 jobs, 5.9%), followed by California (34,300 jobs, 4.0%), Florida (20,900 jobs, 3.8%), and Arizona (15,400 jobs, 9.7%). North Dakota added the highest percentage of construction jobs over 12 months (12.1%, 3,100 jobs), followed by Nevada (11.7%, 10,500 jobs), Arizona, and New Mexico (9.2%, 4,300 jobs). Construction employment reached new highs (in records dating back to 1990) in two states: Nebraska and Texas. Louisiana again lost the largest number and percentage of construction jobs for the year (-10,100 jobs, -6.6%). Other states with large job losses include Ohio (-3,600 jobs, -1.6%), Maryland (-1,600 jobs, -1%), Vermont (-1,000 jobs, -6.6%) and Connecticut (-1,000 jobs, -1.7%). Construction employment rose from July to August in 29 states, decreased in 21 and was flat in D.C. (AGC's rankings are based on seasonally adjusted data, which in D.C., Hawaii and Delaware is available only for construction, mining and logging combined.)

"Demand for design services in August took a markedly downward swing compared to July's already soft score," the American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported on Wednesday. AIA'sArchitecture Billings Index (ABI) "score of 47.2 in August showed a significant drop in architecture firm billings compared to the July score of 50.1. (Any score below 50 [on a 0-100 scale] indicates a decrease in billings.) The design contracts score also declined to 47.9 in August, representing a rare dip for this indicator....'The sizeable drop in both design billings and new project activity, coming on the heels of six months of disappointing growth in billings, suggests that the design expansion that began in mid-2012 is beginning to face headwinds,' said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker....'Currently, the weakness is centered at firms specializing in commercial/industrial facilities as well as those located in the Midwest. However, there are fewer pockets of strength in design activity now, either by building sector or region than there have been in recent years.'" The ABI measures the percentage of surveyed architecture firms that reported higher billings than a month earlier, less the percentage reporting lower billings. Scores (based on three-month moving averages) varied by practice specialty: institutional, 50.6, up from 49.5 in July; residential (mainly multifamily), 50.5, up from 49.8; commercial/industrial, 46.9, down from 47.3; and mixed practice, 46.3, down from 48.9. 

Housing starts (units) in August jumped to the highest level in 12 years, up 12% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from July and 6.6% year-over-year (y/y) from August 2018, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. Multifamily (five or more units) starts soared 31% from July and 14% y/y, although the data are typically volatile and often substantially revised in later months. Single-family starts increased 4.4% for the month and 3.4% y/y. For the first eight months of 2019 combined, total starts slipped 1.8% from a year ago, with single-family starts down 2.7% and multifamily starts up 0.4%. Residential permits climbed 7.7% for the month and 12% y/y. Multifamily permits jumped 15% and 27%, respectively. Single-family permits rose 4.5% for both intervals. Multifamily permits in the first eight months of 2019 combined totaled 298,000, 22% higher than year-to-date starts, implying there is a backlog of projects that may break ground in the next several months.

"The latest labor force statistics from the [Census Bureau's] 2018 Current Population Survey show that the construction industry continues to struggle to attract younger workers," the National Association of Home Builders posted on Thursday in its "Eye on Housing" blog. "While workers under the age of 25 comprised 12.3% of the U.S. labor force, their share in the construction industry reached only 9% in 2018. Meanwhile, the share of older construction workers ages 55+ increased from less than 17% in 2011 to almost 22% in 2018. An earlier post showed that the construction workforce is aging faster than the overall labor force. Compared to the workforce in all industries, construction has a relatively smaller share of younger workers, but a larger proportion of workers in their prime-working age....as of 2018, only about 9% of construction workers were 16-24 years old, less than the employment share of this age group in all industries. Around 69% of construction workforce were in the prime working years of 25-54, compared to 64% in overall workforce. The share of workers ages 55 and older was 21.7% in construction, implying that a substantial portion of workforce would retire in near future....Analysis of the age distribution of construction workers over time reveals that the construction workforce is aging, with the share of older workers ages 55+ rising from 16.8% in 2010 to almost 22% in 2018. At the same time, the proportion of workers ages 25 to 54 declined from 74.6% to 69.3%. This change in age composition of construction labor force is largely because the last elements of the Baby Boomer generation are entering the 55+ age group. The share of younger construction workers ages 19 -24 edged up to 9.0% from 8.6%."

"The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that U.S. wind capacity additions in both 2019 and in 2020 will be near the annual record level of additions set in 2012," EIA posted on Thursday in its "Today in Energy" blog. "Wind capacity additions through June 2019 totaled 3.7 gigawatts (GW). According to projects reported to EIA through surveys and on EIA's Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, operators expect another 8.5 GW to come online by the end of this year, with an additional 14.3 GW by the end of 2020....the legislated phaseout of the PTC extension for wind is largely driving the increase in annual wind capacity additions in 2019." Offshore projects may increase in 2020, but timing remains uncertain.

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