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Pandemic #12 – Jobs & Starts Updated


Jobs data released today show construction added 20,000 more jobs in July. After losing almost 1,100,000 jobs in March and April (out of a prior total 7,600,000), we regained 450,000 jobs in May and 160,000 in June. That leaves construction down 440,000 jobs from the February high point.

Jobs are down 6% from Feb to July, but construction spending is down 7% through June and volume (spending adjusted for inflation) is down 9%.

Year-to-date, total construction starts are down 14%. Residential new starts are down 5%, nonresidential buildings down 22% and non-building infrastructure starts are down 14%. In April, I estimated jobs losses based on Dodge April forecast that new construction starts in 2020 would fall by 10-15% (see Pandemic Impact #4). Yesterday Dodge updated their forecast to show 2020 construction starts for nonresidential buildings fall on average 20%, less in some markets, but -30% to -40% in a few. Only warehouses is up. Non-building starts fall on average 15%. Only Highway/Bridges is up. Residential starts may fall only 5%-10%.

That lowers my forecast for 2021 and 2022.

How those lowered starts affect spending is spread out over cash flow curves for the next few years. This has a major impact on jobs later in 2020 and all of 2021 into 2022. For nonresidential buildings, the greatest impact to spending and jobs occurs from 2021 into 2022 when many of those lost starts would have been reaching peak spending.

Although we may get slight jobs growth in the next few months, there is little to no volume growth to support it. Spending is currently down 7% from the Feb high and volume is down 9%. More spending declines are minimal through Q1 2021. Due to the large declines in new construction starts, we will begin to see additional spending and volume declines by spring 2021. Most of the decline will be in nonresidential buildings.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2022 8-11-20

Revisit Pandemic Impact #8 – Construction Outlook to compare this plot above to the forecast as of June 3 and to the original forecast at the start of this year.

Jobs are supported by growth in construction volume, spending minus inflation. We will not see construction volume return to Feb 2020 level at any time in the next three years. This time next year, volume will be 5% lower than today, 14% below the Feb 2020 level. In fact, volume began it’s decline in Q2 2018.

Spend current vs constant thru 2021 8-11-20

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020. That’s because only about 20% of spending in the year is from new starts in the year. About 50% of spending from new starts in 2020 is spent in 2021. Although starts are forecast down 15% to 20% in 2020 and UP 5% to 15% in 2021, the drop in starts this year has the greatest impact in reducing spending in 2021.

Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The affect of new starts does not show up immediately. If new nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 are down 22%, on average, the affect that has on 2020 is reduced spending by -22% x 20% = -4.4%. But the affect it has on 2021 is -22% x 50% = -11%.

By June of 2021, spending is down 10% from Feb 2020 and volume is down 14%.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jul 2021 8-11-20

We are currently down 440,000 construction jobs from the Feb high. We may regain 40,000 to 50,000 more jobs before the end of the year. But the dropping work volume is indicating by this time next year we may lose another 200,000 jobs and be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high. 


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