Construction jobs grew in more states, metros in January; multifamily market looks up
March 15, 2011

Seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment increased in January in 35 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 15 states, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on Thursday. Compared with January 2010, employment rose in 42 states and D.C. and declined in eight states. Construction employment rose in 29 states and D.C. from December to January—despite widespread harsh weather in mid-January—fell in 20 states, and was level in Delaware. Over the year, construction employment climbed in 14 states plus D.C. and fell in 36 states. The largest year-over-year percentage declines were in Nevada, -13%; Georgia, -12%; Wisconsin, Kentucky and North Carolina, -8% each. The largest gains were in Maine, 9%; Michigan, 7%; Texas, 6%; Tennessee, 4%; Pennsylvania and Mississippi, 3% each. AGC analyzed the change in construction employment in each state from its peak month through January 2011, based on revised historical data that BLS posted. Peak months ranged from September 2009 in North Dakota to January 2000 in Kansas (and March 1990 in D.C.). North Dakota came closest to matching its prior peak, with a 1% decline, followed by Texas (-12% since May 2008) and Louisiana (-12% since December 2008). The steepest drops were in Nevada, -61%; Arizona, -55%; and Florida, -52%, all of which peaked in June 2006. (BLS combines mining and logging with construction in six states, D.C. and most metro areas to prevent disclosure of data for industries with few employers.)

Construction employment increased in January from a year earlier in 121 out of 337 metro areas for which BLS provides construction data, decreased in 163 and was unchanged in 53, AGC reported today. The number of areas with increases was up sharply from previous reports. The largest percentage increases were in Battle Creek, Mich. (27%, 300 combined jobs); Bay City, Mich. (25%, 200 combined jobs); and Pascagoula, Miss. (22%, 900 combined jobs). The largest numerical gains were in Northern Virginia (5,100 combined jobs, 8%); the Dallas-Plano-Irving metro division (4,900 combined jobs, 5%); and the Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Mich., division (3,600 combined jobs, 13%). The largest percentage losses occurred in the Steubenville, Ohio-Weirton, West Virginia area (-32%, -600 combined jobs); Las Vegas-Paradise (-17%, -7,800 jobs); Bend, Oregon (-15%, -500 combined jobs); and Napa, California (-15%, -400 combined jobs). AGC also analyzed cumulative gains or losses since January 2007, when national construction was near its peak. Only 14 metro areas had more construction employees than four years before, six were at the same level, and 317 had fewer employees. The largest four-year percentage gains were in Pascagoula (47%, 1,600 combined jobs) and two Texas metros: Longview (26%, 3,100 combined jobs) and Beaumont-Port Arthur (21%, 3,400 combined jobs). The largest numerical gains were in Beaumont-Port Arthur, Longview and Midland, Texas (2,100 combined jobs,15%). The steepest four-year losses were in Bend (-65%, -5,200 combined jobs); Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Arizona (-65%, -4,200 jobs); and St. George, Utah (-62%, -5,200 combined jobs). The largest number of jobs were lost in Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale (-91,400 jobs, -54%); Las Vegas-Paradise (-61,900 jobs, -61%); Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (-57,700 jobs, -51%) and Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta (-57,700 jobs, -42%). (Metro data is not seasonally adjusted and thus comparisons are valid only with the same month in prior years, not with different months.)

“Two quarterly indices produced by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) indicate a return to healthy market conditions for both new and existing apartment and condominium buildings,” NAHB wrote on Thursday. “The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), which tracks developer sentiment about new construction on a scale of 1 to 100, is at 40.8—up more than 5 full points since the previous quarter and the highest number since the fourth quarter of 2006. The MPI component tracking developers’ perception of market-rate rental properties is at 51.7—the first time this component of the index has been above 50 since the second quarter of 2007. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI) shows similar reason for optimism, declining to 33.3, which is the smallest number since the third quarter of 2006—and half of what it was a year and a half ago. Smaller numbers indicate fewer vacancies. Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.”

The state-funded construction outlook remains grim. “To date, some 44 states and [D.C.] are projecting budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011 in most states,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported on Wednesday. “These come on top of the large shortfalls that states closed in fiscal years 2009 through 2011.”

The number and rate of job openings increased in the overall economy but not in construction from January 2010 to January 2011, BLS reported on Friday. Job openings in all industries rose from 2,399,000 to 2,760,000, seasonally adjusted, and the rate per 100 employees climbed from 1.8 to 2.1. Openings in construction went from 61,000 to 62,000 and the rate remained 1.1. Overall hires rose from 3,585,000 to 3,712,000 and the rate held steady at 2.8. In contrast, construction hires plunged from 344,000 to 247,000 and the rate dropped from 6.2 to 4.5. Total separations (quits, layoffs, involuntary separations and other, including retirements) held nearly steady at 3,555,000 and a rate of 2.7.