Plenty of room for better job numbers
The nation's jobless rate dropped by 0.6 percent, or 800,000 workers, during the course of 2015, but momentum was evident during the last quarter of the year.
"The top line numbers from the Jan. 8 jobs report," says the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), "suggest that the economy is moving in the right direction, but we need to see a whole lot more movement before we reach full employment."
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers show that the number of unemployed persons was 7.9 million in December, for a jobless rate at 5.0 percent for the third straight month.
The EPI said payroll job growth in December was strong at 292,000 jobs, up from the average monthly payroll growth during the course of the year of 221,000 jobs per month. "The last three months saw some decent acceleration" in this area, the EPI said.
According to the BLS, the U.S. construction industry showed strong job growth for the third consecutive month, gaining 45,000 jobs in December. However, over the course of 2015, construction added 263,000 jobs, compared with a gain of 338,000 jobs in 2014.
"It’s hard to overstate how important true full employment is for workers," said the EPI, a labor-backed policy group. "In the absence of substantive policy changes to restore workers’ bargaining power, a tight labor market is the one avenue left to improve living standards for the vast majority of workers and their families. In a full employment economy, there are fewer people lined up for every job and employers have to offer higher wages to attract and retain workers."
Balky expansion for U.S. construction
NEW YORK - U.S. construction starts advanced 8 percent during the course of 2015, for a value of $645.5 billion. This continues the pattern of moderate expansion for total construction starts registered during the previous three years – 2012, up 12 percent; 2013, up 11 percent, and 2014, up 9%.
The numbers come via a report released Jan. 21 by Dodge Data and Analytics, which said that new construction starts in December advanced 4 percent, and follow a 5 percent decline in November, bringing total construction activity back close to the amount that was reported in October.
“The construction start statistics reveal continued expansion for construction activity during 2015, although the path over the course of the year was not smooth,” said Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge. “A strong first half of 2015 was followed by a 20 percent loss of momentum in the third quarter and then a slight 1 percent rebound in the fourth quarter, as the expansion began to show that it was getting back on track. Several factors contributed to the early 2015 strength – more growth for the commercial and institutional segments of nonresidential building, gradual improvement for single family housing alongside the continued rise by multifamily housing, and a surge of electric utility and gas plant projects."
The 8 percent gain for total construction starts at the national level in 2015 was the result of greater activity in all five major regions. Leading the way was the Northeast, up 17 percent; followed by the South Central, up 16; the South Atlantic, up 4 percent; the Midwest, up 3 percent; and the West, up 2 percent.