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Brief notes on spending, starts, backlog, jobs and inflation from March and April tweets.
Nonresidential construction spending is not decelerating in 2018. Will see best growth since 14% in 2015.
Residential construction spending is slowing to +7% growth in 2018, after 6 consecutive years of strong growth averaging 13%/year.
Non-building Infrastructure forecast growth of 8% in 2018, potential to hit a new all-time high due to very large projects in Power and Transportation.
Public construction spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $307 billion, an increase of 8% over 2017, the best growth in 10 years. Educational and Transportation will contribute equally and together account for more than half of the Public spending growth in 2018.
In Oct 2016 and again in Feb 2017, I forecast Manufacturing spending would fall 13% in 2017 after hitting peak spending in 2015 from massive growth in new starts in 2014. At that time, the AIA consensus forecast (average of seven analysts) was that spending would increase +0.4%. By July the consensus had been revised to average -6.6%. I updated my forecast to -11.8%. Based on cash flows, from April 2016 through the end of 2017 I expected spending to decline in 17 of 21 months. It declined in 14 of those months. Manufacturing spending finished 2017 down 11.9%.
In Fall 2017, I predicted Manufacturing construction spending would increase +9% in 2018. However, through March, total construction starts for Manufacturing over the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. Therefore I’ve recently revised my forecast up to +13% spending in 2018. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The January 2018 AIA consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 spending will decline. My data shows increases in starts and backlog indicate large gains.
Nonresidential Buildings new starts are up 55% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 24% in two years.
Nonresidential Bldgs 2018 starting backlog is 55% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle. Spending is UP 38% with 2018 spending forecast up 9%. Institutional accounts for 52% of 2018 construction spending growth, Commercial 27%, Industrial 21%.
80% of all nonresidential buildings construction spending forecast in 2018 is already in backlog projects at the start of the year.
New Construction Starts are booming (need to look past the mo/mo and ytd)
- Residential – 2 highest qtrs since 2006 in last 12 months
- Nonres Bldgs – 3 highest qtrs since Q1 2008 in last 15 months
- Nonbldg Infra – highet qtr since Q1 2015 peak in last 6 months.
Construction Starts data is regularly misinterpreted in common industry forecasting articles. Starts do not directly indicate changes in spending. A Forecast Cash Flow from Starts gives an indication of the rate of change in spending.
Educational new construction starts total from the last five months of 2017 posted the highest 5mo total starts in at least seven years, 13% higher than the next best 5mo. Jan 2018 monthly spending up 12% from 2017 mid-year low.
Healthcare construction starts have quietly increased to a record high over the last two years, up 30% for the 12 months through August 2017 vs the previous 12 months. Spending will increase slowly.
Amusement/Rec construction starts avg of +15%/yr for 5yrs, up 30% in 2016, 5% in 2017. In last 6mo, Aug 2017 to Jan 2018, four very large billion$+ projects started, almost a year’s worth of new starts in 6mo. Backlog indicates 15%-20% spending increases for 2018 and 2019.
In 2010, Warehouse new construction starts were only 1/3 of Store new starts. In 2018, Warehouse starts will be 50% greater than Store starts. Warehouse starts have increased between 20%-40%/year for seven years and are now five times greater than in 2010.
Lodging starting backlog up 13% for 2018, having already averaged increases of 30%/yr since 2015. Starting backlog jumped from $7 bil/yr in 2014 to $17 bil/yr in 2018, supported similar spending growth. Although 2016 was peak starts, it looks like 2018 will be peak backlog.
New construction starts for Manufacturing total for the last 12 months would count as the 2nd highest year on record. I’m now expecting double digit % spending growth in both 2018 & 2019. The consensus estimate is for +2.8% increase in 2018 spending and +5.2% in 2019. Some analysts predict 2018 manufacturing bldg spending will decline.
Structural steel contract includes structural shapes, steel joists, metal deck, stairs and rails, about 10% of total building final cost.
Other steel in a building can include reinforcing steel, exterior metal wall panels, metal ceiling frames, wall studs, door frames, canopies, steel duct, steel pipe and conduit, about 6% of total building cost.
All steel (in a structural steel building) is at least 16% of total building cost. There are more hidden costs of steel in mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment.
Raw mill steel is about one fourth the final cost of structural steel installed. A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise a structural steel subcontract bid price by 6.25%. At 10% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.625%.
A 25% increase in cost of mill steel could raise the other nonstructural steel costs by 6.25%. At 6% of total building budget, that would raise total building cost by 0.375%.
A 25% tariff on mill steel raises building cost inflation by at least 1%. That’s about $7.5 billion of unexpected cost inflation just in 2018.
Watch for unexpected impacts from steel tariffs, potentially adding 5% or more to total cost of bridges (plate steel). Also impacted, power industry, pipeline, transmission & communication towers, transportation.
Steel tariff is going to inflate the cost of the proposed $2.1 billion Gordy Howe International Bridge by $100 million. That will hurt the budget.
2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs construction spending in 2018 forecast to reach a new high, $459 billion, up 9% over 2017, passing the previous 2008 high. In constant $, 2018 will still be 18% below peak.
An estimator could be far off when indexing construction cost using a general cost index versus an actual selling price index.
Failure to account for the affect of inflation on the cost of construction could result in a failure to be profitable.
For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for nonresidential buildings is 4.5% to 5%.
For the last 4 to 5 years average inflation for residential buildings is 5.5% to 6%. In 2013 it reached a 12-year high of 8%.
If you are hiring to meet your needs and you see that construction spending (revenue) has increased by 25%, do you hire to match revenue? No! Hiring requires a knowledge of volume growth, and revenue doesn’t show that. Revenue minus inflation shows volume.
Construction activity has a direct influence on construction inflation. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure backlog are both at all-time highs.
Construction Jobs vs volume growth the last 5 years is nearly even, yet jobs imbalances exist within sectors. Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure show excess jobs while Residential shows a severe jobs deficit. But not all of the apparent deficit in residential jobs is real.
Are all residential jobs being counted? Several studies suggest that a large portion of residential construction jobs may be held by uncounted immigrant or day labor. So it’s possible the residential jobs deficit may not be as large as shown.
In addition to uncounted immigrant labor, some labor is mis-classified. Take for example, a high-rise multi-use building with commercial retail, office and residential space. Census definitions of spending classifications break out spending into the 3 market sectors, but the building is built by high-rise contractors (probably normally classified as commercial), not a residential contractor. This is residential space built using labor classified as non-residential commercial.
BLS writes this: “Establishments are classified into industries on the basis of their primary activity… For an establishment engaging in more than one activity, the entire employment of the establishment is included under the industry indicated by the principal activity.”
So, the mis-classified labor reduces the nonresidential excess and offsets a portion of the residential shortfall.
Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years. The only time in history that exceeded jobs growth like that was the period 1993-99 with the highest 5-year growth ever of 1,483,000 jobs. That same 1993-99 period had the previous highest 5-year spending and volume growth going back to 1984-88.
Construction added 177,000 jobs in the 4 months Nov’17-Feb’18. That’s happened, for any 4-month period, only 5 times since 1984. The last time was 2005-06, during the fastest rate of spending increases since 1984.
Construction jobs pulled back 15k in March, but this follows the strongest month (Feb +65k) in 12 years, so not totally unexpected. I think Mar Construction jobs, (-15k), more likely a pause after Feb (+65k), strongest month in 12 years.
Preliminary data is in for total year 2017 construction spending, 2017 construction starts and 2018 starting backlog. The following forecast is developed using the current data.
2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Mar 2018
A brief note on 2017.
2017 Spending Wrap Up
Total construction spending in 2017 now stands at $1.233 trillion, an increase of 4.0% over 2016.
Residential spending, up 10.5% for the fifth consecutive year above 10% growth, leads all construction spending in 2017 for the seventh consecutive year. Nonresidential Buildings finished the year up 2.3%. Only Non-building Infrastructure did not improve over 2016, down 3.8% for the year. However, Non-building Infrastructure had been at an all-time high for the previous two years.
2017 spending finished below my forecast due to performance in Educational, Office, Power and Highway, four of the five largest markets which together make up half of all nonresidential spending. All came in lower than forecast. However, some of these markets are prone to very large post-annual upward revisions and that has the potential to add to 2017 spending when those revisions are released in July 2018. For instance, in the July 2017 revisions, Power spending for the previous year, 2016, was revised up by 10%.
History shows spending has been revised up 53 times in the last 60 months. I expect to see future revisions smooth out spending in unusually low periods and increase total 2017 spending above this forecast. Both April and July preliminary spending appear statistically too low. The average post-annual total spending revision for the last five years is +2.8%. The post-annual revision to 2016 was only 2.2%. Revisions due for release on July 1, 2018, if even only a +1% revision to 2017, would adjust total 2017 spending up to $1,245 billion. This would slightly alter the 2018 forecast.
2018 Spending Total All Construction
Total All 2018 construction spending is forecast to increase 7.6% to $1.330 trillion.
Nonresidential Buildings spending forecast for 2018, up 9%, will be supported by Manufacturing and Educational. Non-building Infrastructure returns to strong growth of 8%, with potential to hit a new all-time high due to very large projects in Power and Transportation. Residential spending in 2018 slows to growth under 6% after six years all over 10%/year.
Dodge Data 2017 construction starts increased 3% from 2016. However, starts are always revised upward in the following year. I expect revisions will show 2017 starts increased by more than 6% over 2016. Even with that revision, 2017 starts posted the lowest growth since 2011, weighted heavily by the slowdown in residential starts.
Total starting backlog for 2018, currently at an all-time high, has increased on average 10%/year the last three years. 80% of all Nonresidential spending within the year will be generated from projects in starting backlog. Public share of new construction starts are up only 10% in 3 years. But due to long duration job types, 2018 starting backlog is up 30% in the last 3 years.
None of this spending forecast includes any projections for potential work from future infrastructure stimulus.
Current$ vs Constant$
Construction spending reached a new current $ high in 2017 at $1,236 billion. The previous high in current $ was $1,161 in 2006. Spending first surpassed that in 2014 and has been increasing since. But that is in current $, which includes inflation.
Comparing current $ spending to previous year spending does not give any indication if business is increasing. The inflation factor is missing. If spending is increasing at 4%/year in a time when inflation is 6%/year, real volume is declining by 2%.
Although 2018 current $ spending will reach $1,330 billion, after adjusting for 4.5% to 5% inflation, 2018 constant $ volume will increase to only $1,270 billion. When comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars, 2018 spending will still be lower than all years from 1998 through 2007. In 2005 constant $ volume reached a peak at $1,450 billion. At current rates of growth, we would not eclipse the previous high before 2022.
While spending in current $ is 7% higher than the previous high spending, volume is still 14% lower than the previous high volume.
For more on Inflation Adjusted spending see Construction Spending is Back
Jobs and Volume
The period 2011-2017 shows both spending and jobs growth at or near record highs.
A spending forecast of 7%+ in 2018, or nearly $100 billion in construction spending, demands a few words on jobs growth. Construction requires about 5000 workers for every added $1 billion in construction volume. Construction jobs have never increased by 500,000 in one year. However, $100 billion in added spending is not the same as $100 billion in volume, and jobs growth is based on volume.
Although spending will increase 7%-8%, construction inflation has been hovering near 4.5% to 5% for the last five years. Real volume growth in 2018 after inflation is expected to be near 3% or $40 billion. That would mean the need, if there are no changes in productivity, is to add only about 200,000 additional workers in 2018, a rate of jobs growth that is well within reach. That is less than the average jobs growth for the last seven years.
Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years, an average of 268,000/year. The only time in history that exceeded jobs growth like that was the period 1993-99 with the highest 5-year growth ever of 1,483,000 jobs. That same 1993-99 period had the previous highest 5-year spending and volume growth going back to 1984-88.
Construction added 185,000 jobs in the last 4 months, Nov17-Feb18. That’s happened, for any 4-month period, only 5 times since 1984. The last time was 2005-06, during the fastest rate of spending increases since 1984.
Total all spending increased 55% since 2010, but there was 30% inflation. Real total volume since 2010 has increased by only 25%. Jobs increased by 30%, 5% in excess of volume growth. But the results are much different for Residential than Nonresidential.
Nonresidential spending increased 43% since 2010, but there was 30% inflation. Real nonresidential volume since 2010 has increased by only 12%. Jobs increased by 27%, 15% in excess of volume growth.
Residential spending increased by 110% since 2010, but after inflation, real residential volume increased by only 57%. Jobs increased by only 37%, 20% short of volume growth.
Residential Buildings Spending
Total Residential spending in 2017 finished at $523 billion, up 10.6% from 2016. This is the 5th consecutive year that residential spending exceeded 10% annual growth. Average spending growth the last six years is 13%/year.
Residential spending in 2017 was 50% single family, 13% multi-family and 37% improvements. In 2011, improvements was 48% of residential spending.
Census does not include flood damage repairs (house shell remains intact but gut renovate) in improvements but does include full flood damaged structure replacements (structure rebuild permit classified as new) in improvements.
Residential spending is more dependent on new starts within the most recent 12 months than on backlog from previous starts. Total starts for the last 6 months are the highest since 2006, but % growth has slowed considerably. New starts in 2017 posted only 2% growth, but I expect that to be revised up to at least 4%. Similar growth of 6%-7% is expected for 2018. Slower growth is now expected after 5 years (2012-2016) of new starts increasing at an average 20%/year.
Residential 2018 spending growth is forecast to increase only 6% after five years over 10%. Total residential spending in 2018 is forecast at $552 billion.
Residential spending will reach a 12-year high in 2018. Residential spending reached its current $ peak of $630 billion in 2005. Current 2018 pending is still 13% below that peak. In constant $, adjusted for inflation, all years from 1998 through 2007 were higher than 2018. In constant $, 2018 spending is still 27% below the 2005 peak.
Residential buildings construction spending in constant $ reached $523 billion in 2017. Previous spending adjusted to equivalent 2017$ shows that all years from 1996 through 2007 had higher volume than 2017. Volume reached a peak $748 billion in 2005. Only the years 2004-2006 had higher spending in current $. The 2005 current $ peak of $630 billion is still 17% higher than 2017, but 2017 volume is still 30% lower than peak volume.
Nonresidential Buildings Spending
Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2017 finished at $419 billion, up only 2.7% from 2016.
2017 spending finished below my forecast due to performance in Educational and Office. Educational starts increased 6%+/year for the last three years, but spending increased only 4%/year the last two years. Office starts increased nearly 30% in 2016, but spending increased only 3% in 2017. I suspect either big upward revisions to 2017 spending or large increases in backlog will boost 2018 spending in these two markets.
Nonresidential Buildings new starts are up 60% in four years. 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 15% from 2017. Nonresidential Buildings 2018 starting backlog is 50% higher than at the start of 2014, the beginning of the current growth cycle.
Starting backlog has increased for five years at an average 10%/year. Spending from starting backlog, up 10% in 2018, increased for five years at an average 9%/year.
For 2018, Educational spending is projected to increase 14%, the best increase since 2007. Starting backlog increased 10%/year for the last three years. Manufacturing posted several very large project starts in 2017. Spending is projected to increase 12% in 2018.
Nonresidential Buildings spending in 2018 is forecast to reach a new high, $459 billion, an increase of 9.5% over 2017, surpassing the previous 2008 high. Educational and Manufacturing make up 55% of the growth.
For the Full Expanded 2018 Construction Spending Forecast – Nonresidential Bldgs
Nonresidential buildings construction spending in constant $ (inflation adjusted $) reached $419 billion in 2017. In 2018 it will reach $439 billion. Constant $ spending shows all years from 1996 through 2010 had higher volume than the 2018 forecast. Volume reached a peak $536 billion in 2000 and went over $500 billion again in 2008. In constant $ 2018 is still 18% below that 2000 peak.
Non-building Infrastructure Spending
Total non-building infrastructure spending in 2017 dropped to $293 billion, down 3.7% from 2016.
Non-building Infrastructure spending, always the most volatile sector, dropped to yearly lows from June through September, the lowest since November 2014. However, this short dip was predicted. Cash flow models of Infrastructure starts from the last several years predicted that dips in monthly spending would be caused by uneven project closeouts from projects that started several years ago, particularly in Power and Highway markets.
Current backlog is at an all-time high and spending is expected to follow the increased cash flows from the elevated backlog. Environmental Public Works (Sewage/Waste disposal down 14%, Water Supply down 9% and Conservation/Dams & Rivers down 7% in 2017) posted the largest declines in 2017 and accentuated the declines in the infrastructure sector. The sector was expected to increase in the last quarter 2017. All three markets posted increases in the 4th quarter, up 8% over the 1st nine months of 2017.
Non-building Infrastructure 2018 starting backlog is the highest ever, up 10%+ each of the last 3 years. Transportation terminals new starts in 2017 jumped 120%. Rail project starts increased more than 100%. Starting backlog for all transportation work is the highest ever, up 100% in the last two years. Transportation spending is projected to increase 20-25%/year for the next two years.
No future growth is included from infrastructure stimulus and yet 2018 spending is projected to increase by 8%.
Non-building Infrastructure will reach a new high for spending in 2018. Spending reached an all-time high in 2015 and stayed within 0.3% of that high for 2016. A 3.5% decline in 2017 was more of a decline than expected, but there may still be upward revisions to the preliminary total.
Non-building Infrastructure spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $319 billion, an increase of 8.6% over 2017.
My forecast for 2018 is predicting every infrastructure market will post gains, but it is the Power and Transportation markets that account for most of the growth in 2018. Transportation new starts in 2017 grew 120% due to massive new air terminal and rail projects. Spending growth in the Power market is not quite so apparent. Combined Power new starts are down for both 2016 and 2017, but the spending gains are coming from projects that started in 2015, a year in which starts were up over 120%.
Adjusted for inflation, spending in 2018 will be nearly equal to the all-time highs reached in 2015 and 2016.
Non-building Infrastructure construction spending in constant $ reached $294 billion in 2017. Recent highs were posted in 2015 and 2016 at $305 billion and $304 billion and 2018 is expected to reach $319 billion. Previous spending adjusted to equivalent 2017$ shows that 2008 and 2009 were both just slightly higher than $300 billion. Constant $ volume reached a peak $313 billion in 2016. Spending in current $ hit new highs in 2015 and 2016. This is the only sector that has current $ and constant $ at or near all-time highs.
Public Infrastructure and Public Institutional
Only 60% of all Non-building Infrastructure spending, about $170 billion, is publicly funded. That public subset of work averages growth of less than $10 billion/year.
Only about 25% of all Nonresidential Buildings spending, about $100 billion, is publicly funded, mostly Educational.
- Infrastructure = $300 billion, 25% of all construction spending.
- Infrastructure is about 60% public, 40% private. In 2005 it was 70% public.
- Public Infrastructure = $170 billion. Private Infrastructure = $130 billion.
- Power and Communications are privately funded infrastructure.
- Nonresidential Buildings is 25% public (mostly institutional), 75% private.
- Educational, Healthcare and Public Safety are Public Nonres Institutional Bldgs
- Public Commercial construction is not included.
- Public Institutional = $100 billion, mostly Education ($70b).
Public Infrastructure + Public Institutional = $270 billion, 23% of total construction spending.
Public Infrastructure + Institutional average growth is $12 billion/year. It has never exceeded $30 billion in growth in a single year.
Public construction is a subset of Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure and about 1% of Residential.
The two largest markets contributing to public spending are Highway/Bridge (32% of total public spending) and Educational (26%), together accounting for nearly 60% of all public construction spending. At #3, Transportation is only about 10% of public spending. Environmental Public Works combined makes up almost 15% of public spending, but that consists of three markets, Sewage/Waste Water, Water Supply and Conservation. Office, Healthcare, Public Safety and Amusement/Recreation each account for about 3%.
2017 spending was down 1%, but has been at or near the all time high for three years.
Total public spending for 2017 finished flat at $284 billion with most major public markets down for the year. By far, the largest Public spending declines in 2017 are Sewer and Waste Disposal which is 7% of public markets, it was down 16% and Highway/Bridge, down only 3.5%, but Highway is 32% of all public spending.
Public spending hit a low in June 2017. It has been increasing since then, Public Educational, in the second half 2017 up 10% from the low point, now at a post recession high. We can expect to see another six months of growth before spending levels off in mid-2018.
Due to long duration job types, 2018 starting backlog is up 30% in the last 3 years. In 2018, 40% of all spending comes from jobs that started before 2017. Leading 2018 growth are Educational (+15%) and Transportation (+35%), with a combined total forecast 20% growth in public spending.
Current levels of backlog and predicted new starts gives a projection that Public Non-building Infrastructure spending will reach an all-time high in 2018 and again in 2019.
Total Public spending in 2018 is forecast to reach $307 billion, an increase of 8% over 2017, the best growth in 10 years.
Educational and Transportation will contribute equally and together account for almost 60% of the Public spending growth in 2018. Transportation new starts in 2017 grew 120% due to massive new air terminal and rail projects. Educational new starts total for the last three months posted the highest quarter in at least seven years. The 2nd highest quarter was also within the last 12 months, so still contributes fully to 2018 spending. 2018 signifies a turn-round in Public spending which has not posted significant growth since the recession.
Public spending is 10%, $30 billion, below 2009 all-time highs, most of the deficit coming from declines in Educational, Sewage/Waste Water and Water Supply. In 2018, Highway and Transportation are at all-time highs.
Click here for a formatted printable PDF Construction Spending Forecast – Summary Mar 2018
See these posts for additional info
For more on Jobs see Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-7-17
For effects of inflation see Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17
What data are analysts comparing to show construction jobs shortages?
There are numerous articles circulating in the industry regarding the difficult growth of construction jobs. Some compare the percent growth in jobs to the percent growth in construction spending, often citing that spending has increased far more than jobs.
Well yes, that’s true. BUT…
In the 5 years 2013-2017 jobs increased by 1.3mil or 23%. Spending increased by 45%. The industry, for 5 years, has been saying it is difficult to find skilled workers to fill jobs. And yet total construction jobs added in last 5 yrs = 1.3 million, near all-time high growth.
Only 3 times since 1970 have 5-year jobs totals increased by more than the most recent 5-year period 2013-2017. All of the top jobs growth occurred between 1994-2000.
Only 5 times has 3-year jobs growth exceeded the most recent 3-year period. The period 2004-2006, with the highest 3-year jobs growth, also represents 50-year peak construction volume, although closely rivaled for both jobs growth and peak volume from 1999-2001.
But, comparing jobs growth to spending growth is an invalid comparison. Jobs must be compared to volume. Spending is not volume.
Construction spending includes inflation. Inflation does not support jobs growth. If spending is increasing 6%/year and inflation increases 4%/year, then real construction volume is increasing only 2%/year. Balanced jobs growth would then increase 2%/year.
Spending is measured in current $, always current to the year, which includes inflation from year to year. Volume is reported in constant $, constant to the baseline year, which adjusts for inflation. Jobs should be compared to constant $ volume growth.
For the 5-year period 2013-2017, although spending increased 45%, inflation was near 4%/year for all 5 years. Real construction volume increased only 22%. Jobs, up 23%, just slightly exceeded volume growth during this period.
I’ve written a series of articles on jobs vs spending/volume, comparing growth back to 2001. Links to the entire series can be found at the bottom of this post. Several things seem apparent from the analysis, among them, potentially hiring to match spending growth and hiring lags spending growth.
A benefit of the series is that it shows, although jobs/volume growth is nearly even, severe jobs imbalances exist within sectors. Nonresidential and Non-building show excess jobs while residential shows a severe jobs deficit.
Nonresidential buildings has had the largest jobs growth in excess of volume growth. This raises the question, are jobs being added in response to spending growth, which is almost 4%/year higher than real volume growth.
Non-building Infrastructure recent growth is similar to Nonres Bldgs, but it started 2011 with a large deficit.
Residential comparisons uncover some hidden factors. In this Residential plot, spending increased by 100% since Jan 1 2011, but after inflation volume increased by only 57%. Jobs lag 20% behind at only 37%.
But, are all residential jobs being counted? Several studies suggest that a large portion of residential construction jobs may be held by uncounted immigrant or day labor. So it’s possible the residential jobs deficit may not be as large as shown.
In addition to uncounted immigrant labor, some labor is mis-classified. Take for example, a high-rise multi-use building with commercial retail, office and residential space. Census definitions of spending classifications break out spending into the 3 market sectors, but the building is built by high-rise contractors (probably normally classified as commercial), not a residential contractor. This then is residential space built using labor classified as non-residential commercial. BLS writes this: “Establishments are classified into industries on the basis of their primary activity… For an establishment engaging in more than one activity, the entire employment of the establishment is included under the industry indicated by the principal activity”
The series of articles explains much more detail including productivity (annual $ put-in-place), jobs/workload balance and hiring patterns.
Articles Detailing 2018 Construction Outlook
Links will open in a new tab
These links point to articles here on this blog that summarize end-of-year data for 2017 and present projections for 2018.
Most Recently Published
2018 Starting Backlog & New Starts
2018 Spending Forecast
During the period including 2011 through 2017, we had record construction spending, up 50% in 5 years, moderate inflation reaching as high as 4.6% but averaging 3.8%, record construction volume growth (spending minus inflation), up 30% in 5 years and the the 2nd highest rate of jobs growth ever recorded.
Residential spending was up 90% in 5 years, but real residential volume up only 50%. Residential inflation, at 6%/year, was much higher than all construction. Jobs increased only 33%.
Construction added 1,339,000 jobs in the last 5 years. The only time in history that exceeded jobs growth like that was the period 1993-1999 with the highest 5-year growth ever of 1,483,000 jobs. That same 93-99 period had the previous highest spending and volume growth. 2004-2008 would have reached those lofty highs but the residential recession started in 2006 and by 2008 spending had already dropped 50%, offsetting the highest years of nonresidential growth ever posted.
The point made here is the period 2011-2017 shows spending and jobs at or near record growth. Although 2017 slowed, there is no widespread slowdown in volume or jobs growth.
This 2011-2017 plot of Construction Jobs Growth vs Construction Volume Growth seems to show there is no jobs shortage. In fact it shows jobs are growing slightly faster than volume. But that just does not sit well with survey data from contractors complaining of jobs shortages. So how is that explained?
There have been cries from some quarters, including this blog, that the answer lies in declining productivity. There seems to be plenty of workers, but it now takes more workers to do the same job that took fewer in the past. As we will see, that is part of the answer, but doesn’t explain why some contractors need to fill vacant positions. To find data that might answer that question about a jobs shortage we must dig a little deeper.
The total jobs vs volume picture masks what is going on in the three major sectors, Residential, Nonresidential Buildings and Non-Building Infrastructure. A breakout of jobs and volume growth by sector helps identify the imbalances and helps explain construction worker shortages. It shows the residential sector at a jobs deficit.
7 years 2011-2017 – % Jobs growth vs % Volume growth
- Totals All Construction Jobs +31%, Volume +30%
- Nonres Bldgs Jobs +27%, Volume +19%
- Nonbldg Hvy Engr Jobs +21%, Volume +12%
- Residential Jobs +40%, Volume +54%
The totals show jobs and volume almost equal, data that supports the 2011-2017 totals plot above and what we would expect in a balanced market. But severe imbalances show up by sector. Both nonresidential sectors jobs growth far outpaced volume growth. Residential stands out with a huge deficit, with jobs way below volume growth.
Just looking at 2017 growth shows the most recent imbalances.
2017 % jobs growth vs % volume growth
- Totals All Construction Jobs +3.4% Volume -0.8%
- Nonres Bldgs Jobs +3.3% Volume -1.6%
- Nonbldg Hvy Engr Jobs +1.7% Volume -6.0%
- Residential Jobs +3.5% Volume +4.2%
Census recently released initial construction spending for 2017, totaling $1.230 trillion, up only 3.8% from 2016. What is somewhat disconcerting is that 2017 construction spending initial reports growth of 3.8% do not even match the total inflation growth of 4.6% for 2017, indicating a -0.8% volume decline. However, as does always occur, I’m expecting upward revisions (estimated +2%) to 2017$ construction spending on 7-1-18. If we don’t get an upward revision, then 2017 will go down as the largest productivity decline since recession. Even if we do get +2% upward revision to 2017$ spending, 2017 volume would be revised up to +1.2% and jobs growth will still exceed volume growth.
Let’s look a little deeper at the data within the sectors. Each chart is set to zero at Jan 2011 so we can see the change from that point, the low point of the recession, until today. At the bottom of each chart is shown a Balance at start. That represents the cumulative surplus or deficit of jobs growth compared to volume growth for the previous 10 years prior to Jan 2011. If there are no changes in productivity, or no surplus or deficit to counteract, then jobs should grow at the same pace as volume.
There are slight differences between the data in the three sector charts and the total construction chart. The sector charts use annual avg data and the totals chart uses actual monthly data.
Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure, over seven years and the most recent three years, show jobs increasing far more rapidly than volume. Nonresidential Buildings started 2011 with a surplus of jobs after the recession, but Infrastructure started 2011 with a substantial deficit of jobs. Only in this last year did Infrastructure jobs reach long-term balance with work volume.
Nonresidential Buildings started 2011 with a 13% surplus of jobs and more than doubled it in the seven years following. I’ve suggested before it could be that a part of this surplus is due to companies hiring to meet revenue growth, and not inflation adjusted volume. Although nonresidential spending actually increased 43%, volume since 2010 has increased only 12%. Since 2010 there has been 30% nonresidential buildings inflation, which adds zero to volume growth and zero need for new jobs. A 43% increase in spending could lead companies to erroneously act to staff up to meet spending, or revenue, more than needed for the 12% volume increase.
This plot for residential work shows from 2011 to the end of 2017, we’ve experienced a 20% growth deficit in jobs. How many residential jobs does this 20% growth deficit represent? From Jan 2011 through Dec 2017, residential jobs increased from approximately 2,000,000 to 2,700,000. So the base on which the % growth increased over that time is calculated on 2,000,000. An additional 20% growth would be a maximum of 400,000 more jobs needed to offset the seven year deficit. But what about the imbalances that existed when we started the period?
During the residential recession from just 2005 through 2010, residential volume declined by 55%, but jobs were reduced by only 38%. For the entire period 2001-2010, total volume of work declined by 14% more than jobs were reduced. Some of the surplus jobs get absorbed into workforce productivity losses and some remain available to increase workload. It’s impossible to tell how much of that labor force would be available to absorb future work, so for purposes of this analysis an estimate of at least 5% seems not unreasonable. That would mean for 2011-2017, instead of a need for an additional 20% more jobs, the need could be reduced by 5% or 100,000 jobs.
This analysis shows a current deficit of 300,000 to 400,000 residential construction jobs. While it does also show nonresidential buildings jobs far exceed the workload and there are more than enough surplus jobs to offset the residential deficit, there would be several questions of how transferable jobs might be between sectors.
- Are there highly technical specialty jobs in Nonresidential Buildings that would not be transferable to Residential?
- What is the incidence of specialty workers engaging in work across sectors? i.e., job is counted in one sector but working in another sector.
- What has been the impact of losing immigrants from the construction workforce?
- Is the ratio of immigrant workers in Residential much higher than Nonresidential?
- Is the pay more attractive in Nonresidential construction?
- What, if any, percentage of the Residential workforce is not being counted? Day labor?
I think most of these would have a more negative impact on Residential jobs. However, there is some possibility that the overall deficit may not be quite as high as available data show (points 2 and 6). And there is always the possibility that we’ve crossed a threshold that has led to new gains in productivity, although to some extent, the stark differences between Residential and Nonresidential Buildings data might counter that proposition.
These two following report references both document that there is a large unaccounted for shadow workforce in construction. This workforce is probably mostly residential.
Unemployment and productivity includes only jobs counted in the official U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report. Both these reports document a large, unaccounted for shadow workforce in construction. By some accounts, 40% or more of the construction workforce in California and Texas are immigrant workers. Immigrants may comprise between 14% and 22% of the total construction workforce. It is not clear how many within that total may or may not be included in the U.S. Census BLS jobs report. However, the totals are significant enough that they would alter some of the results commonly reported.
The best way to see the implications that the available data do show is to look at productivity. The simplest presentation of productivity measures the total volume of work completed divided by the number of workers needed to put the volume of work in place, or $Put-in-Place per worker. In this case, $ spending is adjusted for inflation to get a measure of constant $ volume, and jobs are adjusted for hours worked.
As the Residential jobs deficit increases vs workload, this plot shows that $PIP is increasing. That makes sense. The workload continues to increase and the jobs growth is lagging, so the $PIP per worker goes up. For Nonresidential Buildings, the rate of hiring is exceeding the rate of new volume and therefore the $PIP is declining.
In boom times, residential construction adds between 150,000 and 170,000 jobs per year and has only twice since 1993 added 200,000 jobs per year. In the most recent several years expansion, residential has reached a high of 156,000 jobs in one year but has averaged 130,000 per year over 5 years. So it’s pretty unlikely that we are about to start adding residential construction jobs at a continuous rate of 200,000+ jobs per year.
If residential jobs growth were to increase by 50,000 jobs per year over and above current average growth, it would take 6 to 8 years to wipe out the jobs deficit in residential construction.
This problem is not going away anytime soon.
For more history on jobs growth see Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage?
For more on the imbalances of Res and Nonres jobs see A Harder Pill To Swallow!
For some hypotheses as to why nonresidential imbalances continue to increase see Construction Spending May 2017 – Behind The Headlines
The last time construction jobs and workload were balanced was 2005. From 2006 through early 2011, workload dropped 15% greater than the decline in jobs. In other words, compared to 2005, contractors started the post-recession period in 2011 with 15% less workload on hand compared to the number of workers kept on staff and that resulted in the period 2006-2011 posting the largest productivity decline ever recorded.
For a discussion on data plotted 2001 to 2011, see this post Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances. In the 2001-2011 plot above, jobs and workload are set to zero baseline in Jan 2001. This shows all of 2001 through 2004 that jobs/workload was balanced. The gap between the red and the blue lines above is the variance from zero change in Jobs/Workload balance. By Jan 2011 there was a 15% workload deficit.
The 1st quarter of 2011 was a dramatic turning point. Both jobs and work volume began to increase. To visualize the variance since Jan 2011, the following plot resets jobs and workload to zero baseline in Jan 2011.
From Jan 2011 to Jun 2015, construction volume increased 24% in 4 1/2 years. Staffing output increased 19% in the same period. Contractors may still feel the effects from not being able to grow staff at that same pace as volume during that period. However, we did see the larger work volume increases make up 5% of the 15% workload deficit from the previous period 2006-2011, but it loses sight of the fact that after almost five years we had not recouped the entire lost work output from all the other 10% staff imbalance that still remained.
Work output is defined as jobs x hours worked. Construction volume is defined as spending minus inflation.
From Jul 2015 to Oct 2017, volume increased just over 1% but jobs output grew by almost 7%. During that two year period, new jobs created plus the change in hours worked by the entire workforce grew 6% more than workload. Jobs increased greater than construction volume increased. The plot shows most of that variance occurred in 2015.
Shifting the time periods slightly gives another impression of the data, overall not much different. In discussions about Construction skilled labor shortages, it’s important to understand, both construction spending and volume are at record growth levels and jobs, since recession, and in last 3 yrs, have matched volume growth.
Overall, in the seven-year post-recession period Jan 2011 to Oct 2017, volume increased 25% and jobs output increased 26%. There seems very little room to be calling this a jobs shortage. Of course, this does not address skills.
So here we are most of the way through 2017 and if we look back at the last 11 years, not only are jobs once again increasing faster than workload, but also in total since 2005 we still have 14% staff that would need to be absorbed by new workload to return to the previous jobs/workload productivity balance.
Maybe it’s time we stop calling this a jobs shortage and start referring to it as a productivity challenge that needs to be turned around.
For an expansion of more information on this topic see Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances posted 8-8-17. Included is the 2001-2011 plot that explains all of 2001 through 2011.
Also, Feb 208 article breaking out residential and nonresidential sectors shows surplus in nonres and deficit in residential Residential Construction Jobs Shortages
From January 2001 to June 2017, jobs growth exceeded construction volume growth by 13%. The attached plots show the imbalances in growth.
Jobs growth is # of jobs x hours worked.
Volume is construction spending adjusted for inflation, or constant $.
Sometimes rapid spending growth is accompanied by higher than average inflation. This occurred in the 1990’s and again in 2005-2006. While spending seems to indicate rapid growth, much of the growth in cost is inflation and volume growth can be significantly lower, even sometimes negative, as occurred in 2005-2006. However, jobs growth during these rapid spending growth periods appears to track much more in line with spending growth. This leads to over-hiring and a loss of productivity occurs.
There are two distinct periods when jobs growth advanced more rapidly than real construction volume, 2005-2006 and mid-2015 to mid-2017. In the eight year period in between, either jobs fell faster or, after January 2011, volume increased faster. If spending growth is used to compare, then jobs growth falls far short of construction spending. But, due to inflation, spending is not the correct parameter to compare to jobs. Jobs must be compared to volume. Since 2001, the imbalance shows jobs growth has exceeded volume growth.
2001 through mid-year 2017, jobs exceeded volume growth by 13%.
2001-2004 jobs and volume growth were nearly equal.
2005-2006 jobs growth exceeded volume growth by 20%. During this period, construction spending and volume reached a peak. From late 2004 into early 2006, we experienced 20% growth in spending, the most rapid growth period on record. But that was also the period of the most rapid inflation growth on record. Residential volume peaked in early 2006 but then dropped 20% by the end of 2006. Nonresidential spending was increasing, but almost all of the growth was inflation. Nonresidential volume remained flat through 2006. Inflation was greater than spending growth, so volume declined. Although volume declined, hiring continued and jobs increased by 15%.
2007-2010 volume exceeded jobs growth by 4%. Spending decreased by 30%. Both volume and jobs were in steep decline. More jobs declined than volume, however, this period started with nearly 20% excess jobs. For January 2010 to January 2011, jobs bounced around near bottom, but volume dropped 8% more. 2010 ended with an excess of 15% jobs. January 2011 was the low-point for jobs.
2011-June 2015 volume exceeded jobs growth by 10%. Spending increased by almost 40% and inflation was relatively low at only 3%/yr. This period helped absorb more than half of the excess jobs that were created in 2005-2006 and remained after 2010. By mid-2015, jobs exceeded volume by only 7%.
June 2015-June 2017 jobs growth exceeded volume by 7%. Spending increased by 7%, but inflation was 7% over the same period. Although volume was up and down, over this two-year period through June 2017 we posted zero growth in volume. All of the increase in spending was inflation. Jobs increased 7% in two years.
For the last 5 years, 2012-2016, jobs averaged 4.5%/yr. growth Construction spending averaged 8.5%/yr. growth. Inflation, currently hovering around 4.5%, averaged about 3.5%/yr. during this period. So real volume growth was only 4% to 5%. In the first few years of the recovery, 2011-2014, the gap narrowed and volume improved over jobs, but for the last two years, jobs have been increasing faster than volume.
I do expect spending to continue at a 6% to 7% growth rate at least through 2018. But also, I expect inflation at 4% to 4.5%. If the spending forecast holds, and if jobs growth comes into balance, then that would indicate only a 2% to 3% jobs growth rate from now through 2018.
Here is the 11-7-17 extension of latest info Construction Jobs / Workload Balance
Jobs growth slowed in the last two months adding only 6,000 construction jobs since February. However, a longer term look at jobs x hours worked vs volume growth gives better information.
In the following plot Jobs (red line) = # of jobs x hours worked and Construction Volume (blue line) = construction spending in constant $ (adjusted for inflation). Unless we make these two adjustments we cannot compare jobs to construction spending and get any meaningful analysis from the data.
I’ve written about this in-depth in these two articles.
You can see in the plot above from Jan 2011 to Mar 2013 both jobs growth and volume growth balanced. Then again by August 2014 jobs growth caught up to volume growth. It was the period from Aug 2014 to Jul 2015 when volume took off and climbed much faster than jobs growth. But then, since July 2015, jobs have been increasing faster than construction volume growth.
In a plot of this information back to 2005, it would show that by the end of 2010 there were already excess jobs. That is discussed in the attached articles. During the expansion, firms hired more employees than real work volume could support, then during the recession, firms held onto far more staff than was required to perform the available declining work volumes. So the chart above would start 2011 with an excess of jobs and really we needed to see work volume increase faster than jobs starting in 2011.
Long term, having started 2011 with not enough volume to support the remaining staff, we see two periods of growth in which jobs and volume were balanced, only one period where volume exceeded jobs growth and then this latest period, for the last 21 months, in which jobs are growing faster than volume.
There are many reports of job shortages and they appear to be genuinely accurate assessments, primarily regarding some very specific skilled labor positions. However, long term jobs vs volume data shows there is far more in play than not enough workers to hire. In fact, for the last 21 months, hiring has exceeded workload and that simply does not indicate an overall worker shortage.
I’ve been saying for a long time the data doesn’t show a construction jobs shortage.
In total, construction jobs have been increasing faster than construction volume (spending minus inflation). But, to get a better picture we need to look at jobs vs volume by sector, Residential and Nonresidential. Then we need to look at history.
Since 2009, RESIDENTIAL volume has increased 49%, jobs increased 22%. This is partly explained by absorption of excess staff retained during recession.
From 2006 to 2009 volume decreased 53% but jobs decreased only 36%, leaving a significant amount of excess jobs.
It looks like from 2009 to 2016 there has not been enough jobs growth to support the volume growth, BUT…
Residential net changes just since 2006, volume is down 29% while jobs are down 22%. We are not nearly back to pre-recession productivity.
Since 2009, NONRESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS volume is down by 10% but jobs are up 13%. By no means, if we look at just these 7 years, does this look like a jobs shortage.
Even previous years imbalance would not account for a need to add that many jobs. From 2006 to 2009 volume increased 2% but jobs decreased 15%. In a previous report Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage? I explained why this may occur following a prior top-heavy jobs expansion during a period of high inflation.
Nonresidential net changes just since 2006, volume is down 8% but jobs are down only 3%. Again, we are not nearly back to pre-recession productivity.
For both residential and nonresidential buildings, comparing post-recession growth to pre-recession 1996-2006 $ Put-In-Place per Job, productivity is down 21%, or we currently have 100/(100-21) = 27% more jobs now than it took before to get the same amount of work done.
If the current construction expansion period is viewed as having a jobs shortage, that claim demands that we must accept, since pre-recession, productivity has declined by 21% and the reason there is now a jobs shortage is that it takes 27% more jobs to put in place construction than it did on average from 1996 to 2006.
In my opinion, that’s a harder pill to swallow than a jobs shortage.
For more related to this discussion see Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage?
The imbalance between construction spending and construction jobs is nothing new. It’s been going on for years. It reflects more than just worker shortages. It captures changes in productivity due to activity. It also helps explain why sometimes new jobs growth rates do not follow directly in step with spending growth. A big part is that it reflects hiring practices. That imbalance can be affected by either over or under-staffing and that can be affected by inflation.
2000-2008 The Expansion
For the 1st several years, nonresidential construction spending was flat or down. Then for two years spending was up only slightly, but constant $ volume (spending inflation adjusted) had actually decreased. Nonresidential jobs fell from 2001-2003 but then grew for several years during this period when constant $ volume was decreasing, creating productivity losses.
On the other hand, residential spending grew 80%, but after adjusted for inflation, volume grew only 23%. Most staffing increases during this period were for residential construction and jobs/volume growth was pretty consistent. Residential saw mixed productivity during this period. In 2006 residential volume had already started declining.
It is not uncommon when work is plentiful that productivity declines. In 2004-2005, spending increased by 24%, but inflation was hovering around 8% to 9%/year. Constant $ volume (spending after inflation) increased by only 6%. Jobs grew faster, by 9%. Net productivity decline.
In 2006, nonresidential work was starting to take off, increasing 45% from 2006 though 2008. During this period jobs increased by only 8% and volume added 16%. Excess volume was able to absorb a good portion of the jobs/volume imbalance from 2000-2006.
See the line chart below “Productivity = Annual $ Put-In-Place per worker. These up or down periods for each of these sectors discussed here can easily be seen in rising or falling $PIP volume on that chart, sectors plotted separately. The bar graph “Total Annual Productivity Change”, is the composite total of the three sector graphs.
Net volume in 2006 declined, but jobs increased another 5%. For the three-year period 2004-2006, spending increased by 28%, but after inflation, real volume increased by less than 5%. Jobs increased by 14%. Productivity declined by nearly 10%.
Heading into 2007, residential firms had excess staff, as measured by the negative imbalance of jobs/volume. Compounding productivity issues, when spending started to decrease significantly, it took longer for companies to downsize their workforce. The workforce was not reduced to match the volume of work lost. Residential construction was first to show the strain, already having started to decline in 2006 and continuing to decline through 2009.
2006-2010 The Residential Recession
Residential construction was 1st hit by the recession in early 2006. For the 4 years 2006-2009, residential volume dropped 55%. It remained flat for two more years, down a few more percent. Over six years starting 2006, residential jobs dropped only 40%.
The Annual $ PIP line chart above shows that for 2006-2009 there were only residential losses, or negative balance between jobs/volume. Both nonresidential sectors were improving slightly at the time. The total negative bars in those years is entirely due to residential.
2009-2011 The Nonresidential Recession
Nonresidential Buildings construction didn’t fall into recession until 2009. In the two years 2009-2010, nonresidential buildings lost over 30% in volume but only 22% in jobs.
This chart simply shows the imbalance between the number of jobs and the dollar volume of work put in place for each year compared to the year before. In a simple form that can be referred to as a change in productivity. In all these charts, jobs/year are adjusted for hours worked and dollars are always constant $ inflation adjust to 2016$.
In 2009 my chart shows a huge productivity gain. It is almost entirely due to Non-building infrastructure, which never did fall into deep recession. Combined residential and nonresidential buildings only in 2009 would have shown a net 1% gain.
2011-2012 Early Recovery
Starting 2011, firms had lost significant revenue but had retained more staff than needed. There was so much excess staff (in relation to how much total revenue was available) that almost no reasonable gains in spending could wipe away the losses in productivity. Volume improved by 1%, but hiring resumed and jobs grew by 1%. Due to excess staff still on payrolls, productivity showed a 6% decline.
For the next few years, when we look at jobs growth vs. volume growth, there is reason to believe that slow jobs growth (2011 through 2013) may not be all due to labor shortages. Although we lost more than 2 million jobs, there remained excess jobs when compared to the amount of volume that was available.
At least part of the blame for slower new jobs growth was that excess staff already on hand were being absorb by the new spending gains. For a period there was insufficient volume out in the market to support all the staff that had remained on board. Finally, there was increased revenues which would first reabsorb part of the excess labor before rehiring started.
2012-2016 The Construction Boom
It took three more years to see a significant move towards balancing jobs and real volume. In 2014, jobs increased 6% and constant volume increased 7%. For the first nine months of 2015, jobs increased 3% and volume increased 8%. This was a good productivity balance period.In the three years 2012-2014, volume increased 16% but new jobs grew by only 11%. The increased work volume absorbed a good portion of the excess staffing.
What reasons could cause contractors to think they need more staff?
One reason may be that contractors don’t typically track revenues in constant dollars, they track in current dollars. So any comparison to a previous year is to inflated data. To achieve business plan growth of 6%/year, is it necessary to grow staff by 6%/year? Not if during that period inflation is 4%. Then real volume growth is only 2%/year and new staffing needs are far less than anticipated.
Basing staffing needs on current $ revenue growth can lead to the same kind of over-staffing we saw going into the recession. In the three years 2004-2006, construction spending increased 30%. Jobs increased 16%. However, during that three-year period construction inflation was the highest ever recorded, composite inflation averaging greater than 8%/year. After inflation, real construction volume increased only 4% during that period. Hiring far exceeded the rate of real volume growth. There is the potential that contractor’s hiring could be swayed by highly inflated spending when actually volume is not as strong as thought.
From the Jan 2011 bottom of the construction recession through Dec 2016, both work output (jobs x hours worked) and volume (spending after adjustment for inflation) increased equally by 29%.
(note: BLS revisions to hours worked, issued in the 3-10-17 release changed total growth output from 29% to 30%).
There are always unequal up and down years, but this longer term period shows balanced growth returned after a tumultuous period. We were so far down on the scale after the recession it seems reasonable that we experienced this re-balancing.
Both 2014 and 2015 show productivity gains. That is unusual in that there have not been two consecutive years of productivity gains in 23 years (while my jobs data goes back to 1970, spending data goes back only to 1993).
The trend changed in October of 2015. Now when we look at jobs growth vs. volume growth, there is reason to believe that any jobs growth slow-down may be at least in part due to recent over-hiring.
2014-2016 Record Jobs Growth
In the last three years, we’ve added 840,000 construction jobs. We’ve also increased hours worked to an equivalent to 880,000 jobs, growth of 15%. That’s a faster rate of growth in three years than the 2004-2006 construction boom. To help explain that growth, real volume in 2014-2016 was far greater than the volume in 2004-2006, or any other three-year period for that matter. The last time we’ve seen jobs growth like this was 1995-1999.
2012 through 2016 is the greatest construction boom on record, whether measuring unadjusted current $ spending or constant $ real volume after inflation, flying past the 2000-2005 boom and narrowly beating out 1995-2000. And we started 2017 with backlog at a record level, so the boom continues.
5-Year Construction Booms Compared to 2012-2016
- 2012 – 2016 current $ +$377 bil +48% — constant $ +265 bil +29%
- 2001 – 2005 current $ +$314 bil +39% — constant $ +30 bil <3%
- 1996 – 2000 current $ +$254 bil +46% — constant $ +235 bil +21%
Notice how little growth actually occurred in the five-year period 2001 through 2005. While there was significant spending growth, most of it was inflation, and 90% of it was residential. During that period composite inflation increased more than 35%. Also, nonresidential construction was having a setback, dropping 15% in volume in that five years. The real story out of the 2001-2005 boom period is to compare residential work.
- 2012 – 2016 Rsdn current $ +$211 bil +83% — constant $ +146 bil +46%
- 2001 – 2005 Rsdn current $ +$280 bil +80% — constant $ +132 bil +23%
Residential inflation 2001-2005 was a whopping 47%. But, total residential spending was up 80%. After adjusting for inflation, residential still added 23% to volume during that period. During both periods, residential volume grew more than jobs, so both periods had a net productivity gain.
Also in 2001-2005, nonresidential added 3% more jobs in a five year period in which volume dropped 15%. The very high levels of inflation help explain why staff may have grown to such excess during that period. Contractors were seeing revenues grow by 20%-30% and were slowly adding jobs in a period when real volume was dropping 3% per year.With the exception of residential growth, there was a downturn in other work. New jobs increased by only 11%, but due to rampant inflation, real volume increased by less than 3%. Nonresidential contributed all the negative productivity in 2001-2005.
2014-2015 Construction Spending for the Record Books
- 2014 to 2015 current $ +$206 bil +23% — constant $ +158 bil +16%
No two consecutive years of construction come close to equaling the real volume put-in-place during 2014-2015. The two years 2004-2005 had greater growth in spending, but most of that was inflation, so had little growth in volume. In fact, we would need to consider three consecutive years to come close to 2014-2015 and the three years that comes closest is 1996-1998 and that would still be a few percent short. This volume growth is driving huge jobs growth.
From October 2015 through March 2016, jobs growth was exceptional. During that 6 month period we added 215,000 construction jobs, the fastest jobs growth period in a decade. That period topped off the fastest two years of jobs growth in 10 years. Record increases in jobs growth are not what we might expect if there is a labor shortage.
And yet, the Jobs Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) is the highest it’s been in many years and that is a signal of difficulty in filling open positions. But, one of the known factors during a high level of market activity (lot’s of construction work – we are at record levels) is that workers know there is another and sometimes better job just down the road. During high levels of activity, unless the current employer is paying some kind of premium to keep them, workers may leave for greener pastures. That creates a high level of job churn.
Hiring Changes Lag Volume Changes
It is important to take note that it appears the two most recent six-month surges in jobs lag the period of greatest volume growth. I noted earlier that contractor staffing changes seem to lag movements in volume.
Since Sep 2015, jobs have been increasing more than real construction volume. For much of 2014 and 2015 construction spending real volume growth was exceeding jobs growth. Spending in 2016 slowed from the all-time record levels. That’s not totally unexpected as it would be highly unusual for that record level of growth to continue. But hiring continues.
Since Sept 2015, construction volume growth (spending minus inflation) slowed or stalled and completely contrary to what one would expect in a labor shortage, new jobs growth has been exceeding volume.
- From Sep15 to Mar16 jobs increased+3.3%, volume increased +1.6%
- From Mar16 to Aug16 jobs had no change, volume decreased -3.3%
- From Aug16 to Feb17 jobs increased +2.6%, volume increased +0.10%
This most recent six-month period posted 177,000 jobs, the 3rd best for any consecutive six months since 2005-2006. Although we experienced a slow down in new jobs through the middle of 2016, that was bracketed by two of the three strongest six month growth periods in more than 10 years. For 18 months Sep’15 to Feb’17, jobs are up 7% higher than volume. For 2012-2014 volume grew 6% more than jobs.
For 2017, several economists are predicting total construction spending will increase by just over 6% (including my estimate of 6.5%). However, I’m also predicting that combined construction inflation for all sectors will increase by about 4.5%. That leaves us with a net real volume growth of only 2.0%. Therefore, for 2017, I do not expect jobs to increase by more than 2.0%, or 140,000. That number seems hard to swallow given we are already at 98,000 in the first two months. But remember, jobs have been growing faster than volume for the last 17 months. We could be due for another no-jobs-growth absorption period.
If jobs increase more than 140,000 and both spending and inflation hold to my predictions, then jobs will continue to outpace volume and that will show up on my plot as a productivity loss for 2017. Jobs have been getting ahead of volume for 17 months. Contractors may still be hiring, lagging the movement in real volume growth. It will take the next few months to see if that is the case but I would expect jobs growth to slow or stop for the next few months and I would not attribute that to labor shortages. As we’ve seen before, we should expect jobs/volume to come back to balance. (post note: following Jan-Feb when, after revisions, we added 88k jobs, in the next 5 months we added only 13k jobs. Jobs growth almost stopped for 5 months.)
So, here we are powering our way through the greatest construction expansion ever recorded, with three years of jobs growth at a 11-year high and jobs growing faster than volume for the past 17 months. Does that seem like a jobs shortage to you?