The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 20, 2015

News Briefs

By The Building Tradesman

Momentum rises in U.S. construction 

Momentum in the U.S. construction industry has bounced around a bit in recent months, but the overall trend "continues to be positive, painting the picture of a broad-based yet still moderate recovery for nonresidential building projects at the planning stage."

So says Dodge Data and Analytics, which reported on March 6 that its Dodge Momentum Index increased in February by 4.3 percent from January. The index is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for nonresidential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year.

Dodge said the index now stands at 17 percent higher than it did a year ago, with the most recent rise due to more planning activity in both the commercial and institutional sectors.

Industry's jobless rate drops to 10.6%

The above-referenced momentum in the U.S. construction industry is translating into real jobs, as the building industry added 29,000 thousand jobs in February and 321,000 over the previous 12 months.

That comes from a March 6 report by the Associated General Contractors of America, which said the construction industry is enjoying its highest employment in the last eight years, and the jobless rate has correspondingly fallen to a pre-recession, eight-year low of 10.6 percent.

"Despite challenging weather conditions in much of the country, both the number of workers and their average weekly hours rose last month to the highest levels since the recession," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "There are lots of good-paying, full-time jobs available in construction, with more work on the way."

Construction employment totaled 6.35 million in February, the highest mark since February 2009, with a 12-month gain of 321,000 jobs or 5.3 percent. Average weekly hours of all employees climbed to 39.6 hours and weekly earnings averaged $1,066 in construction, the highest levels in the nine-year history of both series. Weekly earnings in construction were 24 percent above the private-sector average.

The number of workers who said they looked for work in the past month and had last worked in construction fell from 1.09 million a year earlier to 906,000 - the lowest February mark in nine years. Although winter conditions typically result in a high February unemployment rate for construction, the 10.6 percent unemployment rate for these workers was the lowest February rate since February 2007 and represented a steep drop from a year earlier, when the rate was 12.8 percent, Simonson noted.

"Contractors in most states appear optimistic about the prospects for construction, especially for apartments and private nonresidential projects," Simonson added. "In contrast, the highway funding outlook is murky."

AGC officials said that employment in highway and transit construction was at risk if Congress and the Obama administration fail to find a way to pay for, and enact, a long-term federal highway and transit bill.