The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 18, 2014

Government austerity is a tangible job killer

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

The release of monthly U.S. employment reports are one of the best barometers of the health of the U.S. economy – and June’s report, issued in the first week of July, showed dark skies have finally been clearing in most job categories. Most.

Construction is one glaring job category which can’t quite resist the considerable headwinds holding down a move toward sunnier skies. The construction industry added a ho-hum 6,000 workers in June, although it continued a lengthening streak of positive jobs numbers which brought about an 8.2 percent jobless rate, the lowest June level in six years.

But the improving numbers, while welcome, are coming at an agonizingly slow pace.

“The construction industry continues to expand gradually and unevenly,” said Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist. “Despite recent job growth, construction employment is still more than 1.7 million jobs or 22 percent below its 2006 peak.”

Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported July 3 that the U.S. economy added 288,000 jobs in June, up from 217,000 in May, and the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, a dip from May’s 6.3 percent. This marks the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 and the best five-month stretch of job growth since the early 1990s.

The Obama Administration has pointed out that the private sector has added 9.7 million jobs over 52 straight months of job growth. And over the past year, the number of jobless workers has decreased by 2.3 million and the unemployment rate has fallen from 7.5 percent.

While conservative cutbacks in government spending may save taxpayer dollars, they’re continuing to add to the employment problems. The lack of any new money for the nation’s infrastructure – and more immediately, the real possibility that a federal transportation funding package won’t be renewed by the end of July – threaten to push work prospects for hundreds of thousands of building trades workers into a tailspin.

And cutbacks in local, state and federal government jobs have been painful for both workers, and government employment statistics.

“We remain lagging in public-sector employment,” said AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs. “This is the first post-World War II expansion in which public-sector employment has not recovered quickly. And it is the first expansion in which the public sector has been such a drag on the growth of gross domestic product (the measure of all goods and services produced in the United States).