Construction employment rises in most states through April; reports on starts diverge 

Seasonally adjusted construction employment rose in 38 states and the District of Columbia year-over-year (y/y) from April 2017 to April 2018, declined in 11 states and was unchanged in Montana, an AGC analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released on Friday showed. The largest percentage gains again were in West Virginia (12%, 3,500 jobs) and Nevada (9.8%, 8,200), followed by Arizona (8.2%, 11,700), Utah (8.1%, 7,700) and Idaho (7.9%, 3,500). As in March, the most jobs were added in California (59,500, 7.4%), Texas (40,600, 5.7%) and Florida (34,900, 7.0%). The steepest percentage losses again occurred in North Dakota (-17%, -4,900), followed by South Dakota (-3.3%, -800), Iowa (-3.2%, -2,500 jobs) and Nebraska (-2.1%, -1,100). North Dakota lost the most construction jobs, followed by Iowa, Missouri (-1,500, -1.2%), South Carolina (-1,400, -1.4%) and Nebraska. For the month, employment rose in 29 states, fell in 19, and was flat in Mississippi, Montana and D.C. Texas was the only state to set a new record for construction employment. (AGC’s rankings are based on seasonally adjusted data, which in D.C, Nebraska, South Dakota and four other states is available only for construction, mining and logging combined.)

Two firms that track construction starts reported divergent results for April last week. The value of new construction starts in April tumbled 13% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, reversing an 11% jump in March, Dodge Data & Analytics reported on Thursday. “Nonbuilding construction (public works and electric utilities/gas plants) plunged 22% after its 74% hike in March that featured the start of the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline expansion in West Virginia and Virginia, as well as several large highway projects. Nonresidential building retreated 12% due to a slower pace by its institutional and manufacturing segments. Residential building dropped 9% with reduced activity for both single-family and multifamily housing. During the first four months of 2018, total [year-to-date] construction starts on an unadjusted basis were…down 7% from the same period of 2017 (which included very strong amounts for airport terminals and natural gas pipelines).” Residential building starts increased 4% year-to-date, nonresidential building starts plunged 18%, and nonbuilding starts fell 10%. On a 12-month moving total basis, total construction starts for the 12 months ending April 2018 matched the dollar amount that was reported for the 12 months ending April 2017.” ConstructConnect reported on Tuesday that year-to-date starts in January-April 2018 combined were down 15% from the same months of 2017, with residential building starts down 15% (single-family, +4%; multifamily -42%); nonresidential building starts down 27% (commercial, -33%; institutional, -13%; and industrial (manufacturing), -60%); and heavy engineering (civil) starts up 9%. The 12-month average through April 2018 was flat (residential, +4%; nonresidential building, -9%; civil, +13%).

Housing starts in April decreased 3.7% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from the March rate and 13% from the April 2017 rate, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. Single-family starts inched up 0.1% for the month and 7.2% y/y. Multifamily starts (in buildings with five or more units), which are often volatile, slid 13% for the month, following a 15% leap in March, and jumped 19% y/y. Starts increased 9.1% year-to-date (8.3% for single-family and 10% for multifamily). Building permits, a fairly reliable indicator of near-term starts, declined 1.8% for the month but rose 7.7% y/y. Single-family permits gained 0.9% and 7.9%, respectively. Multifamily permits fell 7.4% for the month but increased 6.4% y/y. Permits increased 8.8% year-to-date (single-family, 8.6%; multifamily, 8.1%).

Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) increased in 47 states and D.C. in the fourth quarter of 2017, decreased in North and South Dakota and was flat in New York, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported on May 4. “Mining and construction were the leading contributors to the increase in real GDP in Texas, the fastest-growing state.” Construction contributed 0.77 percentage points of the 5.2% increase in Texas’s state GDP. “Construction increased 8.4% nationally and contributed to growth in 49 states and [D.C.]. In addition to Texas, this industry also made a notable contribution to the increase in real GDP in Florida” (0.59 percentage points of a 3.7% growth in state GDP). Nationally, construction contributed 0.35 points out of GDP growth of 2.7%. The largest construction contributions were in Colorado (0.88 points of 3.2% growth in state GDP) and West Virginia (0.81 points of 1.0% growth in state GDP). Construction shrank only in North Dakota (-0.33 points out of a 1.3% decline in state GDP).

BLS issued a report on characteristics of the foreign-born workforce in 2017 on Thursday. Foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in construction and extraction occupations (9.3% of foreign-born workers vs. 4.4% of native-born workers). The employment disparity was especially great for men: 15.6% of foreign-born men vs. 8.2% of native-born men were employed in construction and extraction occupations.

The Census Bureau sent letters on May 1 with instructions for online response to the Economic Census (Census of Construction for construction firms). Companies who receive the census are required by law to respond. Due date is June 12.