In a report released December 8, 2015 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs growth for industries. Construction is pegged as a leader with expected 790,000 new jobs from 2014 to 2024. Robert Deitz at NAHB provides a good summary of the BLS report.
Let me provide a few historical averages and break this down so we can see how it stacks up.
The prediction period is from 2014 through 2024, so all of 2014 is already in the BLS baseline. The average number of construction jobs in 2014 was 6,138,000 and BLS uses that baseline. BLS says 2024 will average 6,928,000 construction jobs, growth of 790,000 jobs over 10 years, from which we can infer 12.9% growth in 10 years or a 1.22% compounded growth rate.
In 2015 we’ve already gained 215,000 ytd through November. The average jobs for 2015 is currently 6,390,000, so that leaves 540,000 expected over the remaining 9 years. That would imply a growth rate of 8.5% in 9 years or an average compounded growth rate of only 0.9% per year.
Now here is where it gets interesting.
Spending growth is predicted by several firms between 5% and 10% per year for the next 4 years. My own forecast has 2016 growth at 11%. Average of forecasts for the period 2016-2019 are currently 8%, 7.5%, 6% and 7%.We need to take out inflation to get real volume growth, so we will assume 4% inflation per year for the next 4 years. Long term construction inflation is 3.5% per year, but in rapid growth years it has reached 6%-8% per year. For the period 2013-2015 construction inflation averaged 4%. Adjusting for inflation at 4% results in volume growth for 2016-2019 at 4%, 3.5%, 2% and 3%. This is much faster growth than the BLS average, so we will remain more conservative in this analysis.
Historical volume growth over the last 22 years is grossly distorted by the recession. Volume declined in 8 of those 22 years. In the three worst three years of the recession, 2008, 2009 and 2010, volume declined by 28%. When we take out those three years the typical growth period averages are more apparent. The historical average volume growth in construction with recession data removed and after adjusting for inflation is 2% per year for 19 years.
Jobs growth over the last 20 years averaged 1.6% per year, even when we include the catastrophic losses during the recession years of 2007 through 2010. The BLS is predicting 1.22% growth for 10 years, lower than the average with a recession. Without the four worst recession years of job losses the average growth jumps to 3.7% per year, almost triple the BLS predicted growth. Minus the recession years, there has never been a prolonged period where jobs growth has averaged growth less than 2% per year, so we shouldn’t expect such low growth.
BLS assumes productivity will increase 1% per year. This would lower the number of jobs needed. Construction productivity has never done this before. My records show over the last 20 years there has not even been two consecutive years of construction productivity increases. Long term productivity in the construction industry has declined by 1% per year. Data would indicate jobs growth must be greater than volume growth to make up for productivity losses.
We have differences based on my analysis of historical growth and productivity. Forecasts show expectations of rapid growth in the next few years. These differences would produce dramatically different estimates of jobs growth in coming years. How much different? Let’s see.
Let’s be conservative with assumptions. Based on:
- No productivity increases or losses. Therefore jobs will grow at the same rate as volume.
- Volume growth of 1.5% per year will be less than forecast and less than the historical non-recession average. This allows for some years to decline.
- There will be no recession, but there will be down years.
- Starting from 2015 baseline of 6,390,000 jobs
Jobs need to grow at 1.5% per year compounded for 9 years. That’s 14.3% in 9 years from the 2015 baseline of 6,390,000. Growing 14% in nine years adds 895,000 jobs by 2024. We’ve already gained 215,000 jobs in 2015. For the period of the BLS analysis, my conservative prediction is a total gain of 1,110,000 jobs over 10 years, 320,000 more than the BLS prediction.
Jobs reached a peak in 2006-2007 at 7,700,000. At conservative growth rates we will not reach the previous peak by 2024. However, if construction volume and jobs growth follow a little more closely to historical 20 year patterns, we will add 1,300,000 jobs from 2014 to 2024, but still be short of the previous peak. This scenario adds 500,000 to the BLS prediction.
If volume growth does reach forecast levels and if jobs growth does include some losses in productivity then my estimate for jobs is double BLS and we could reach the previous peak in jobs several years earlier.