The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 24, 2010


By The Building Tradesman

Lawmakers approve extended UI benefits

A bi-partisan Congress, along with the signature of President Obama on Dec. 17, passed an $858 billion package that guarantees up to 99 weeks of jobless benefits for workers hard-hit states like Michigan. The measure also extends the G.W. Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans, even those in the top income brackets. Many organized labor leaders argued, to no avail, that with wealth accumulating at the top of the income chain, the rich could afford to pay more in taxes. This package also does nothing to reduce the federal budget deficit.

High jobless rate vexes construction

The construction unemployment rate jumped to 18.8 percent in November as the sector lost another 5,000 jobs since October, according Labor Department information released Dec. 3. The numbers reveal that construction’s jobless rate nearly double the overall unemployment rate of 9.8 percent.

The U.S. construction industry has lost 117,000 jobs in the last 12 months. And since the construction sector’s employment peaked in August 2006, the industry has lost 2.1 million jobs.

“The unemployment report shows construction still has not broken free of the recession that has gripped the industry since 2006,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors. “Other than the stimulus and other temporary federal programs, it has been a pretty bleak four years for the industry.”

The only construction segment to add jobs in the past year has been heavy and civil engineering construction, which has benefited from federal stimulus, military base realignment, and Gulf Coast hurricane-prevention projects, Simonson said. Meanwhile, residential construction has lost 79,000 jobs over the past 12 months, while nonresidential specialty trade contractors and nonresidential building – the other two segments in the nonresidential category – have lost 62,000 jobs.

The AGC has been warning that with the federal stimulus and other temporary federal programs winding down in 2011 – most likely before private, state or local demand for construction picks up. They urged Congress and the Administration to act on a series of long-delayed infrastructure bills for water, transportation and other infrastructure programs.

“We’re hoping Congress doesn’t cut off federal investments that are almost single-handedly keeping this industry together,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive office. “Even the Deficit Commission understands that the one thing we can’t afford to do as a nation is neglect our infrastructure.”