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Construction Jobs and Inflation

Construction jobs through August 2022 increased to 1.1% above the pre-pandemic high in Q1’20. Factoring in hours worked, we find that is reduced slightly to show jobs x hours worked for August 2022 is 0.4% lower than the peak in Q1 2020. Most anyone would say jobs have returned to the pre-pandemic high.

Construction spending through July is 14.3% higher than the pre-pandemic high in Q1’20. BUT INFLATION through July is 23% higher than pre-pandemic Q1’20. Therefore real construction volume (spending minus inflation) is currently 7% BELOW the pre-pandemic high in Q1 2020.

Jobs are up, but volume is down.

So, when you read that jobs are back to pre-pandemic levels, maybe that’s not as great as you might think. Sure more people are back to work, but has the volume of work needed to support those jobs increased sufficiently?

Inflation hides a lot of reality. We now produce 7% less volume of work put-in-place with 1.1% more workers putting in 0.4% less hours than before. That’s a huge construction productivity loss, down 6.6% in the last 30 months. Where does that productivity loss show up in the data?

Here’s the plot of actual and forecast CONSTRUCTION SPENDING. Compare this to the next plot.

Here’s the plot of actual and forecast CONSTRUCTION SPENDING ADJUSTED FOR INLATION.

Notice, Residential volume is up 11% since Q1 2020, but nonresidential buildings volume is still down 23% and non-building volume is down 18%.

Let’s say construction labor is 35% of total construction cost. If wages go up by 5%, then total cost goes up by 5%x35% = 1.75%. Well, if productivity declines by 6.6%, labor cost goes UP by 6.6%x35% = 2.3%.

That’s the inflation cost. Here’s a look Behind the Headlines. These two plots show the number of jobs required to put-in-place $1 billion of volume (inflation adjusted spending) or the inverse, the amount of volume put-in-place by one job in one year.

It’s great that jobs are coming back, but don’t overlook the cost that has added to inflation. Don’t expect to see a lot of improvement over the next 12 months. In fact, if jobs continue to grow at the current rate (or any rate for that matter), this time next year the imbalance is worse.

Burning Questions – Recession, Labor, Infrastructure

I gave two conference presentations in the past month. The most pressing questions from the audience were:

Are we headed into a recession? When will recession start?

What can be done about the labor shortage?

How can we support all the infrastructure work that is about to begin?

RECESSION

There is no question the sizable drop in starts in 2020 lead to a downturn in construction spending, mostly felt in 2021, but extending somewhat into 2022. However, this quickly turned around for residential spending and nonres bldgs spending is now past the low point caused by the pandemic initiated slowdown. With new construction starts to date at all-time highs and the forecast for new construction starts in the pipeline, it’s hard to envision how this would lead to a construction recession.

  • In 2021, new starts increased 17%. Residential +21%, Nonres Bldgs +15% and Nonbldg +9%.
  • In 2022, new starts are forecast up 11%. Residential +10%, Nonres Bldgs +18% and Nonbldg +4%.
  • In 2023, new starts are forecast up 10%. Residential +12%, Nonres Bldgs +7% and Nonbldg +11%.

Total of all starts year-to-date in 2022 are up 6% over Jan-May 2021. Nonres bldgs starts are up 17% year-to-date. For the past 6 months, Dec’21 to May’22, residential construction starts posted 5 of the 6 highest months ever. The 6mo total for residential starts is the highest 6mo total ever recorded, up 4% over the previous 6mo record, posted in 2021.

Residential new starts get spent at a ratio of 70:30. Nonresidential Bldgs spending from new starts, on average, gets spent over the next 3 years in the ratio of 20:50:30. That is, 20% of spending from all starts within the year gets spent within the year started, 50% gets spent in the following year and 30% gets spent in the 3rd and sometimes 4th year. So from this we can say, if new starts are up 10% for the year then spending from that source will increase 10% x 20% or 2% the 1st year, 10% x 50%, 5% the 2nd year and 10% x 30%, 3% the 3rd year. If we get 3 consecutive years of growth in new starts there would be no downward pressure on spending for the next 3 to 4 years.

In the 2nd half of 2021, residential starts, although still strong, posted a few lower monthly totals. Although 2022 spending will still finish the year up, these lower monthly starts from late 2021 will work to cause a slight spending dip in the 2nd half of 2022. Nonresidential Bldgs spending is slowly increasing in 2nd half 2022. Nonbldg spending is flat or very slowly decreasing. The net effect is spending will post a decline in 4 of the next 8 months of 2022, but the total declines may not result in 2 consecutive quarters of declines. By the time we head into 2023, all three major construction sectors are in a growth pattern.

So, we will see a few months of spending declines, but the new starts pool of work is growing, not decreasing. The current forecast model is predicting no recession on the horizon.

LABOR SHORTAGE

This next plot shows labor and volume of work (spending minus inflation) to support that labor growing equally, albeit with short-term peaks and troughs, from 2011 to 2018. In fact, this equal growth extends far back with only few years causing exception to this pattern. This plot, and the extension of this plot to older data, shows that normally, labor increases at the same rate as volume. You can see that 2018 posted a significant drop in volume while jobs continued to increase. This departure had nearly corrected itself by Jan 2020.

The most recent construction spending report, issued July 1, revised unadjusted spending data for 2020 and 2021, both years added $30+bil. That brought volume up those years on this plot. The current spread between jobs and volume of work is still 10%.

In May of 2020, jobs were already on the rebound, but the volume of work was not. Work volume did recover some at the end of 2020 but then fell again, as was predicted, into mid-2021. In May of 2020, jobs and the volume of work were near balance. Since May of 2020, spending increased by 22%, but most of that was inflation. Since May 2020, actual work volume increased by only 1.5%. Jobs increased by 9%.

The last time the normal jobs/volume growth pattern was disrupted like this was 2006, the only other time in the last 25 years this occurred.

Volume, not spending, supports jobs. If volume is down, support for more jobs drops. If jobs increase while volume is declining then productivity is declining and the number of jobs required to put-in-place $1 billion of construction volume increases. At the same time, the inverse, the amount of volume put-in-place per job, decreases. This productivity loss drives up construction labor cost inflation and the need for additional labor to complete the job.

edited/added 8-6-22 Where the construction jobs are:

From Feb 2020 to Jul 2022 Nonres Bldgs and Nonbldg jobs are down 3.5% and 1.5%. Volume of work is down 20%.

Residential jobs are up 6.5%. Rsdn volume is up 14%.

It’s not quite that bad in either sector because some workers classified and counted as nonresidential perform work in the residential sector.

Total jobs up 1%. Total volume down 7%. That’s a slip of 8% in productivity. If labor is only 30% of total construction cost, an 8% slip in productivity is a 2.4% increase in inflation. That’s in addition to changes in wages.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The current administration has approved an infrastructure spending bill that earmarks approximately $500 billion for construction spending. It will take several years to start all this work.

The infrastructure spending bill may fund construction for a variety of buildings and non-building types of construction, for example, highway, water and sewer, educational, healthcare, etc. Rather than strictly classified as infrastructure, or as commonly referred to as nonbuilding construction, this bill will fund some forms of buildings and non-building construction in the public construction sector.

The total of all public construction is only 25% of all construction. This subset of construction totals about $360 billion in annual construction spending. It has never increased by more than $37 billion in spending ($35 billion in volume) in a year. Average growth is closer to $10-$15 billion/year. This public sector of construction does not have the capacity to increase by $100 billion/year.

As you can see in the plot above, it takes about 5000 jobs to support $1 billion of volume for 1 year. So, increasing volume by $35 billion in one year would require 35 x 5000 = 175,000 new jobs for that year. Keep in mind, this is to support a subset of construction that is only 25% of all construction.

Jobs have never increased by more than 400,000 in one year for all construction. Even taking out the 13 years when jobs dropped, the average jobs growth for the past 50 years is only 220,000/year for all construction. That would seem to indicate the average growth for the public sector, at 25% of all construction, averages only 55,000 jobs/year.

Total all construction for the three years 2022-2023-2024 is forecast to increase $140 billion, $117 billion and $116 billion. The remaining 75% of the construction industry still adds a lot of demand for growth and jobs beyond just that of the public sector that gets a boost from the infrastructure bill. But after adjusting for inflation, the growth in volume over this three-year period is only about $120 billion. That would generate a need to create 600,000 new jobs over the next three years. About 25% of those jobs support the infrastructure funded growth.

If the infrastructure spending bill adds $35-$40 billion/year in spending, $30-$35 billion/year in volume, the need would be 150,000 to 175,000 jobs/year to support that 25% of the construction industry. Since it is unlikely the public sector of construction could add that many jobs, it is more likely the amount of construction spending added yearly will be somewhat lower.

Infrastructure has a slower spending curve than the 20:50:30 for nonres bldgs, roughly more like 15:40:30:15. If $100 bil of new contract awards start in 2022 then spending would be $15 bil in 2022, $40 bil in 2023, etc.. At $100 bil of new starts per year, the highest one-year growth would be $40 bil, probably double the pace the sector can grow.

Construction Jobs and Spending Briefs 4-1-22

Construction Jobs report for Mar 2022 shows total jobs up 19,000 from Feb

Rsdn jobs +7,600, Nonres Bldgs +6,300, Civil +5,000

Although construction jobs increased by 19,000 in March, total hours worked dropped by 1.8% from Feb, so total workforce output is down.

It’s real hard to compare construction jobs growth by sector. If you work for a concrete firm or structural steel firm, with firm doing primarily nonresidential work, but you are out there putting in concrete or steel for a high-rise multifamily buildings, your job is still classified as nonresidential.

Jobs are up 82,000 year-to-date, 1.1% from Dec, but that’s also up 3.5% from ytd 2021. With the latest quarter at +1.1%, jobs are increasing at a rate of 4%/year. But inflation adjusted spending, building activity, is expected up only 2.5% in 2022, after dropping -2% in 2021. Jobs increased 2.5% in 2021.

2022 spending started the year at the highpoint. I expect a slow decline in monthly spending in all sectors of 2% over the 2nd half. That provides no support for jobs growth.

Construction jobs have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. The problem with construction jobs having returned to pre-pandemic levels is the level of inflation adjusted construction volume of activity that is needed to support those jobs is still 5% below Feb 2020 and 13% below the 2006 peak. So since Feb 2020, jobs are back to that level, but volume is not so productivity has dropped by 5%.

Construction Spending is up +10.4% year-to-date (in 2 months!) mostly driven by +15.5% ytd Residential.

A plot of residential construction spending inflation adjusted. Taking out inflation shows volume of building activity. Perhaps the trend in residential is strong enough to keep going.

Total spending is up +4% in 3mo since Nov 2021 (and 10% ytd-2mo), but I don’t expect this rate of growth to hold. However, this and any other changed data inputs revises my 2022 spending forecast.

Examples of big changes since initial forecast:

Manufacturing spending has increased so much in Jan-Feb, (up 35% ytd) that even if the next 10 months finish flat year/year, Mnfg will still finish up 5% for 2022.

Residential new starts for the latest 3 mo, Dec-Jan-Feb, avg is as high as any quarter last year. Nearly all of this spending occurs in 2022.

Construction buildings cost inflation over the last 4 years is up 25%. Labor cost, wages up 15% & productivity down 7%, is up 22%. But labor is 35% of total building cost so 22% x 35% = labor is 8% of that total 25% building cost inflation. Fully 1/3 of construction inflation over last 4 years went into workers pockets.

Construction Jobs Outlook 10-11-21

The most recent BLS jobs report was released Oct 8, 2021. I expected construction jobs to decline. For the last 4 months, volume of work has been flat at 2% below the 1st quarter. My forecast indicated no support for jobs growth, but jobs increased.

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but The Story once again is in hours worked. Hours dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. See plot at bottom of report that shows Oct jobs vs volume.

Construction added 22,000 jobs in September. Jobs have increased only 4 out of 9 months this year. Since a large increase of 93,000 in March, construction has gained only 6,000 jobs. For all of 2021, jobs are up by 47,000. But after a brief increase in the 1st quarter 2021, volume of work is down, now down 2% since Q1 2021, only 1% above the lowest point since the onset of the pandemic and 6% below the pre-pandemic level.

In March and April of 2020 we lost 1.1 million jobs. But every month in 2020 after that we gained back jobs, all of that driven by large gains in residential work. There was no recovery in any nonresidential work in 2020. In fact, all nonresidential work continued to decline throughout the year. How much support did we get for jobs growth?

Inflation Does Not Support Jobs

We cannot overlook the affect of inflation. As of 10-14-21, nonres bldgs inflation for 2021 is estimated at 4.6% and residential inflation is estimated at 12.9%. 

Inflation adds to total spending but adds nothing to total work volume. Construction spending minus inflation (Volume) is what supports jobs. Spending is always reported in Current $, the value of the dollar at that time. Spending minus inflation is Constant $. Constant $ = Volume. Most of the increase in residential construction spending in these past two years is INFLATION. Nonresidential spending and volume are both down. There is no meaningful increase in total construction volume to support jobs growth.

Spending versus Volume through August 2021 since February 2020:

Residential spending is up +32%. After adjusting for inflation the real change in volume is up only +14%. Most of the 14% increase in volume occurred in 2020. Since Dec 2020, residential volume is up only 3.5%.

Nonresidential Buildings spending is down -17%. After adjusting for inflation, the real change in volume is down -22% (down 17% in 2020 and 5% ytd in 2021).

Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending is down -12%. After inflation, the real change in volume is down -19% (down 13.5% in 2020 and 5.5% ytd in 2021).

Residential jobs are up only 3%, but volume is up 14%. This is where the greatest need is currently.

Nonres Bldgs jobs are down 6.5%. Volume is down 22%. There is a considerable excess in jobs.

Nonbldg Infra jobs are down 5.5%. Volume is down 19%. There is a considerable excess in jobs.

Total ALL JOBS are down only 2.6%. Total Volume is down 6%. This means productivity is down.

Jobs Imbalances

The need identified in residential, and likewise the excess identified in nonresidential are not as extreme as both seem. There are a large number of jobs classified as nonresidential that actually perform residential work. Any large firm, and all it’s employees, if primary work is on nonresidential buildings, is classified nonresidential for the purpose of the jobs count. Workers are always classified by the primary classification of the firm they work for, not by the type of building they work on. However, the buildings they work on are always classified as to building type. This often occurs in large primarily nonresidential trades such as concrete, structural steel and HVAC, when working on multifamily high-rise buildings. These crossover jobs are not separable from the major classification. Therefore, most often, nonresidential jobs are overstated by workers involved in residential work and residential jobs are understated because some work is performed by firms whose primary classification in nonresidential.

(A separate issue arises from the fact that residential construction employs the largest percentage of immigrant workers, about 40% of the residential workforce, predominantly in southern states. Pew Research provided a study documenting that about 14% of all construction is performed by immigrant workers and about half of all immigrant workers are unauthorized. It is fair to suggest some portion of these residential workers are not being captured in the BLS Jobs survey, contributing to the above noted imbalances in residential jobs versus volume of work. For more information, use the search function in this blog for “Pew Research”).

Hours Worked

In the September BLS report, hours worked per week jumped to 40.0 hours form 38.8 in August. That’s an increase of 3%, an equivalent to adding 225,000 jobs. The recent increase in hours worked could also be equivalent to 40% of the residential workforce working a six-day week versus five days.

Comparisons of hours worked show a little deeper look into the jobs situation. Compared to the average monthly hours worked in the pre-pandemic 12 month period Mar 2019 to Feb 2020, which was a 13-year high: April 2020 was down 16%; Apr-May 2020 average was down 12%; Mar thru Dec 2020 average monthly hours worked was down 5.2%; 2021 year-to-date average monthly hours worked is down only 1.4%.

Now in September 2021 average monthly hours worked is within 0.5% of the peak in Feb 2020, now 1% higher than the 13-year high average in 2019. Keep in mind, current construction volume is still down 6% from Feb 2020.

The increase in total hours worked could have several different explanations: it may be a response to meet current residential demand or to rush to completion jobs that were delayed due to the pandemic; Contractors may add hours if they can’t find enough workers with the needed skills; Contractors may be adopting an approach to meet current work demands by increasing hours rather than adding jobs. Using that last approach would allow contractors to reduce hours, rather than reduce jobs, if future volume of work were to decline. There does not seem to be any increase on the horizon in nonresidential demand. Nonresidential volume has been decreasing 1% to 1.5% per month in 16 of the last 18 months. All sectors are forecast to experience volume declines for the next 6 to 12 months.

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but The Story once again is in hours worked. Hours dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. See plot at bottom of report that shows Oct jobs vs volume.

Productivity

Whenever there is insufficient growth in the volume of work to support growth in jobs or total hours worked, productivity is declining. The following plots shows volume of work (spending adjusted for inflation) plotted against jobs adjusted for hours worked. From 2011 through Jan 2018, although there are bumps in the plot, the two moved pretty closely in tandem. A big volume decline in 2018 did not result in a similar jobs decline but volume came back very close to jobs by Jan 2020. Contractors may not respond to an immediate drop in volume by cutting jobs if they anticipate a pickup in volume on the horizon. Since Feb 2020, jobs have recovered to growth, but volume has fallen and is still not in recovery mode. The next 12 to 18 months show volume struggles to recover. Jobs will be affected but contractors may not respond in like fashion.

Spending Forecast / Volume Forecast / Jobs Forecast

For the full spending forecast see Construction Spending Update 10-1-21

Construction spending is on track to increase 5.8% in 2021 over 2020. But after taking out inflation, spending minus inflation, or volume, in 2021 will be down 2.5%. Total spending increases $87 billion over 2020, but after inflation volume will actually be down $32 billion. Residential spending increases $130 billion (+20%), but after 13% inflation residential volume increases only $49 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending decreases $34 billion but after adjusting for 4.5%+ inflation real nonresidential buildings volume falls $52 billion. Non-building Infrastructure spending decreases only $9 billion but after adjusting for 7%+ inflation real non-building volume falls $30 billion.

All sectors are forecast to decline over the next 6 to 12 months. Residential has already captured large gains this year. Forecast declines are due to moderate ups and downs in when and how strong new starts were posted. Nonresidential construction volume growth is falling due to a huge amount of nonresidential buildings starts (-22%) and to a lesser extent non-building infrastructure starts (-15%) that disappeared from April 2020 through April 2021. The affect of those lost starts, which would have had peak spending from mid-2021 to mid 2022, is such that the volume of work will continue to decline throughout 2021 and well into 2022.

Since Feb 2020, total construction volume has recovered to a point that is down 6%, but jobs have increased back to a level that is down only 2.6%. Jobs are increasing at a rate that is closer to the growth in construction spending, which includes inflation and is substantially greater than the rate of growth of construction volume.

Although jobs should follow growth or declines in volume, as the plot above from 2011 through 2017 shows, things don’t always go as the forecast predicts. If jobs growth follows more closely to volume growth, which it should, this time next year construction could be down another 200,000 jobs.

11-5-21 updated plot below to include Sept spending report and Oct jobs report

11-5-21 update Construction jobs report for October added 44k jobs, but hours worked dropped 3.5% this month from 40.1 to 38.7. Even though jobs increased by 44k (+0.7%), actual total workforce hours worked dropped 2.8%. Plot shows Oct jobs vs Sep volume.

Midyear 2021 Economic Forecast Presentation

Behind the Headlines – Construction Jobs in 2021

3-6-21

Don’t be fooled by the upturn in January nonresidential buildings construction spending.

The greatest negative impact created by the loss of nonresidential buildings new starts from Apr 2020 to Oct 2020 has not yet hit spending and jobs in this sector. Expect both spending and jobs to decline steadily throughout 2021. My current forecast shows monthly spending down on average 1%/month for 9 out of the remaining 11 months in 2021. Dec 2021 SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) will be 10% below Dec 2020, 18% below Q1 2020.

Do not expect any jobs growth in construction in 2021.

We all know a project takes time to build. It starts out slow, ramps up to peak spending and staffing just after the midpoint of the schedule and tapers off to completion. Peak monthly spending on a project with a 20-month schedule occurs 10 to 12 months into the schedule.

If we record a month of new starts 20% above normal, then 10 to 12 months from now spending and jobs from projects that started in that month will be 20% higher than normal. Then it stands to reason, if we record a month of new starts that is 20% BELOW normal, then 10 to 12 months from now spending and jobs from that month will be 20% lower than normal.

The greatest impact on spending, either up or down, from changes in new construction starts, occurs at the point in time when those projects would have reached peak spending, near the project midpoint.

In April 2020, new starts for nonresidential buildings fell 40% and then averaged 30% below normal for the next 6 months. If average duration of nonresidential buildings projects is about 20 months, then the loss of new starts will result in a maximum decline in spending and jobs 10 to 12 months later. (If average duration is about 24 months, then the loss of new starts will result in a maximum decline in spending and jobs 12 to 14 months later. This analysis uses 20 months).

Declines in new starts after April 2020 were large through the entire year, but during the months April through October 2020, starts averaged down 30%. Therefore, the maximum declines in spending and jobs from this period of reduced starts will occur 10 to 12 months later, from the beginning of the period to the end, from February through August 2021. Nonresidential buildings new starts in November, December 2020 and January 2021 are still down 20% from the pre-pandemic 6mo avg. high. This means spending declines will continue past August 2021, but at a slower rate of decline.

In Q1 2020, nonresidential buildings construction spending SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) was $485 billion/yr. In April and May it had only dropped 3.5%. In Dec 2020 nonresidential buildings spending was $440 bil., down 10% from Q1. By May 2021, nonresidential buildings spending will only be $420 bil. By September 2021, the rate will be down to $400 billion.

Nonresidential buildings construction spending forecast in 2021 is down 11% from 2020. Spending continues to decline 6% in 2022. Inflation makes all these numbers slightly worse. If spending is down 11% at a time when inflation is up 3%, then real volume of work is down 14%. Jobs should follow in step with volume.

Nonresidential buildings spending especially will remain below the previous high at least for the next three years, probably longer. New starts in 2021 would need to ramp up by more than 40% to push 2021 spending back up to previous levels. New starts are forecast to gain only 3% to 5% for the next two years.

Nonresidential buildings (and to a lesser extent Nonbuilding Heavy Engineering) spending and jobs losses for the next year will be much greater than the gains expected due to increases in residential spending. New construction starts in 2020 for all types of nonresidential work declined by what is adjusted to a $150 billion decrease in spending. Residential increased by $35 billion. But again, the spending from those starts is spread out over time.

Nonresidential buildings volume declines of 14% project to a loss of over 400,000 jobs in 2021 and Non-building Infrastructure is projected to drop 60,000 jobs, but Residential could experience growth next year of 250,000 jobs. That could result in net annual jobs losses of 200,000. Job losses continue into 2022 with net volume declines of 4%.

Here is a sample cash flow schedule that shows when spending is impacted by changes in new starts in 2020.

Click on chart to see larger. Use back arrow to return to this article.

This cash flow schedule is based on reduced starts in Apr-Dec 2020. All other months are considered at 100% of the pre-pandemic rate. This sample uses $10bil/mo of new starts as 100%, the high in the 1st quarter, carried out over a 10mo schedule. If the rate of starts were to remain constant at $10bil/mo, then the spending would also remain constant at $10bil/mo. The amounts carried for April to Dec represent the actual starts recorded, measured as a percent of previous high, the 1st quarter 2020, so $6.6 bil in May is 66% of the pre-pandemic highpoint average, which here is $10bil.

With the onset of reduced starts in April 2020, spending began to fall, but only a few percent. The cumulative impact to spending of all reduced starts will be months later than the initial impact. Cash flow shows maximum impact is ~50% to 60% out in time of each individual schedule. The spending in any given month includes input from starts in 10 different months. It’s when a month lines up with all the inputs from reduced starts months that spending reaches its lowest.

The bottom line of $ is construction spending per month, the sum of the contributions from the cash flow of all the still ongoing projects. That shows when greatest impact occurs. The low point in spending can be measured in months from the initial event, April 2020. But the combined effect extends well beyond the initial event (reduced starts) which started in April but lasted until December. This is why maximum impact of reduced spending for nonresidential buildings stretches over a long period in 2021-2022.

Assuming an average duration for a particular nonresidential buildings market sector is 20 months to build, deepest losses will occur 60%x20mo or 12 months later, Apr2021, and continue to Dec2021. This duration certainly varies by building type and could vary from as short as 12 months to as long as several years. Maximum impact is always 50%-60% into the duration.

Declining spending does not support jobs growth.

See Also Construction Jobs in 2020 down 220,000

See Also Projects On Hold vs Lost New Project Starts

2021 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

Initial Construction Outlook 2021, 2-5-21, based on data from:

  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Jan 16th, issued 2-5-21
  • Forecast includes US Census Dec 2020 year-to-date spending as of 2-1-21
  • Forecast includes Dodge Outlook 2021 and Dec construction starts 1-19-21

SUMMARY – CONCLUSIONS

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Volume is spending minus inflation. Current outlook shows the most recent peak volume was 2017-2018. Total Volume is forecast to decline every year out to 2023, but Residential is rising, Nonresidential is falling.

When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. Nonresidential buildings spending for 2020 is down -2%, but with 3% to 5% inflation, volume is down 5% to 7%. The extent of volume declines would impact the jobs situation.

STARTS – BACKLOG – SPENDING

By far the greatest impact of the pandemic on construction is the massive reduction in new nonresidential construction starts in 2020 that will reduce spending and jobs in that sector for at least the next two years. Residential continues to increase.

  • 2020 new starts declined -8%. Res +7%, Nonres Bldgs -24%, Nonbuilding -14%.
  • New starts for residential reached an all-time high in 2020. Expect up +5% in 2021.

Nonresidential construction starts in backlog at the beginning of the year provide for 75% to 80% of all spending in 2021. New starts in 2020 were down 24% for buildings and 14% for non-buildings, so backlog is down. It would be difficult to show any scenario that has these sectors up in 2021.

  • Starting Backlog for 2021 is forecast down -10%. Backlog for 2022 is forecast down -5%.

Construction has yet to experience the greatest downward pressure from the pandemic. After hitting a post-pandemic spending high in December, spending and jobs losses won’t hit bottom until 2022. Nonresidential declines outweigh Residential gains.

  • Spending forecast for 2021 is up +1.4%, but nonresidential buildings is down -11%.
  • Almost all gains in spending are due to large 12%/yr gain in residential.

The largest declines in 2021 spending are Lodging -37%, Amusement/Recreation -26%,    Manufacturing -19% and Power -15%.

PROJECT COST ESCALATION – INFLATION

  • Inflation for nonresidential buildings near 4% the next few years. Residential 5% to 6%.

VOLUME – JOBS

Construction Jobs annual average for 2020 is down 220,000 jobs. The current spending forecast is indicating that December 2020 was the highpoint for jobs. Residential jobs will be up in 2021, but Nonresidential Buildings jobs are down steep. Net jobs will be down 15 of next 18 months. Forecast 2021 net annual average jobs losses of -200,000. Nonresidential Buildings 2021 jobs losses will outweigh residential gains.

Selected slides from Feb 2021 Construction Outlook Presentation

EdZ Econ Feb 2021 SAMPLE SLIDES PDF

Read More 2021 Construction Economic Forecast

2021 Construction Economic Forecast

Initial Construction Outlook 2021, 2-5-21, based on data from:

  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to Jan 16th, issued 2-5-21
  • Forecast includes US Census Dec 2020 year-to-date total spending as of 2-1-21
  • Forecast includes Dodge Outlook 2021 and Dec construction starts 1-19-21

This analysis utilizes Dodge Data & Analytics construction starts data to generate spending cash flow to then determine how spending may affect future construction activity.

When spending increases less than the rate of inflation, real work volume is declining. In 2020, nonresidential buildings spending is down -2%, but with 3% inflation, volume declined 5%. The extent of volume declines negatively impacts the jobs situation. A 5% decline in Nonresidential Buildings volume impacts $22 billion worth of work and more than 100,000 jobs. In 2021, spending is forecast down 11%, volume down 14%.

2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, up $80 billion to $695 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending is forecast to drop -11% to $410 billion, a decline of $50 billion. Non-building spending drops -2% to $343 billion, a decline of only $8 billion.

By far the greatest impact of the pandemic on construction is the massive reduction in new nonresidential construction starts in 2020 that will reduce construction spending and jobs for at least the next two years. Although nonresidential buildings spending is down only -2% for 2020, the 15% to 25% drop in 2020 new construction starts will mostly be noticed in lower 2021 spending.

New Construction Starts

Total construction starts for 2020 ended down -8%, but Nonresidential Buildings starts finished down -24% and Non-building Infrastructure starts are down -14%.

Residential starts finished the year up +7% from 2019.

Most nonresidential buildings markets and residential new starts are forecast to increase 5% in 2021. Nonbuilding starts will increase 10% in 2021.

In the Great Recession, beginning in Q4 2008, nonresidential buildings new construction starts fell 5%, then fell 31% in 2009 and 4% in 2010. Spending began to drop by Dec 2008, then dropped steadily for the next 24 months. Spending dropped 40% over that next two years. During that period, residential starts and spending fell 70%.

In 2020, nonresidential buildings starts fell 24%, but the six months from Apr-Sep, starts fell 33%. Starts are forecast to fall 4% in 2021. Nonres Bldgs spending began to decline in Aug, is now down 10% from Feb high and is forecast to drop steadily the next 20 months, for a total decline of 25%. This time around residential starts and spending are increasing.

Over the final 5 months of 2020, new Residential construction starts posted 4 of the 5 highest monthly totals since 2004-2006. Residential new starts finished 2020 at a 15-year high, with almost 50% of new activity for the year posting in the final 5 months, which will put a lot of that spending into 2021. Total 2020 residential starts are up 7%, but the average for the last 5 months is up 10% from the same period 2019. There is a large portion of 2021 spending from that last 5 months of starts, that will be up 10%.

Nonresidential Buildings new construction starts in 2020 averaged down 24%: Manufacturing -57%, Lodging -46%, Amusement/Recreation -45%, Education -12%, Healthcare -7%. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume.

Manufacturing starts in 2020 fell 57%. Manufacturing projects can have a moderately long average duration, because some projects are 4-5 years. So, projects that fell out of the business plan starting gate in 2020 caused a drop in starting backlog of -32% for 2021 and -33% for 2022. It should not be hard to see how that leads to a huge decline in construction spending the next two years. The same thing happened with Amusement/Recreation and Lodging, although lodging tends to have shorter duration, so affects mostly 2021.

Commercial/Retail starts in 2020 dropped 16%. But this group includes warehouses which finished the year up +1% and warehouses is 60% of the total market. All other Commercial/Retail ended 2020 down 35%.

Non-building Infrastructure new construction starts in 2020 averaged down -13%. Power -37%, Transportation -22%. Highway (along with residential) was the only market to gain new starts in 2020, +8%.

Power new starts fell 37% in 2020, but Power backlog has not increased since 2018. Even though Power new starts in 2021 are forecast to increase 13%, that’s not enough to push spending to positive.

Transportation starts declined -22% in 2020. But Transportation backlog increased 50% over the last three years. There is a large volume of Transportation projects currently in backlog, and although backlog does drop slightly for 2021, spending is supported by the large volume of starting backlog and a forecast for increased new starts in 2021.

The following NEW STARTS table shows, for each market, the current forecast for new construction starts. With exception of residential, spending in all other markets, due to longer schedules, is most affected by a decline in new starts, not in the year of the start, but in years following. As we begin 2021, some effects of reduced starts have not even begun to show up in the data. A 24% decline in new nonresidential starts in 2020 results in a huge decline in spending and jobs in 2021-2022.

Almost every nonresidential construction market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because approximately 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts, and 2020 nonresidential starts are down 24%, with several markets down 40%. Starts lead to spending, but that spending is spread out over time. An average spending curve for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The effect of new starts does not show up immediately. If new nonresidential buildings starts in 2020 are down 24%, the affect that has in 2020 is to reduce spending by -24% x 20% = – 4.8%.  The affect it has in 2021 is -24% x 50% = -12%. In 2022-2023 the affect is -24% x 30% = -7.2%.

Starting Backlog

Starting backlog is the estimate to complete (in this analysis taken at Jan 1) for all projects currently under contract. The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011.

Backlog leading into 2020 was at all-time high, up 30% in the last 4 years. Prior to the pandemic, 2020 starting backlog was forecast UP +5.5%. Due to delays and cancelations, that has been reduced to +1.8%, still an all-time high. Starting Backlog, from 2011-2019, increased at an avg. rate of 7%/year.

If new construction starts are greater than construction spending in the year, then for the following year starting backlog increases. It’s when new starts don’t replenish the amount of spending in the year that backlog declines. And that is the case this year.

Total starting backlog is down -10% for 2021 and -5% for 2022. 2021 Starting Backlog is back to the level in 2018. In 2022, backlog drops to the level of 2017.

Nonresidential Buildings new starts declined by -24% in 2020 resulting in starting backlog drops -19% for 2021 and drops -9% for 2022.

For Non-building Infrastructure, a drop of -14% in 2020 starts results in a drop of 9% in 2021 starting backlog and -5% for 2022. 

Residential starting backlog for 2021 is up +12%. New starts are up 6%.

2021 backlog declines in every nonresidential market, except Highway.

80% of all nonresidential spending in any given year is from backlog and could be supported by projects that started last year or 3 to 4 years ago. Residential spending is far more dependent on new starts than backlog. Only about 30% of residential spending comes from backlog and 70% from new starts.

Projects in starting backlog could have started last month or last year or several years ago. Many projects in backlog extend out several years in the schedule to support future spending. Current backlog could still contribute some spending for the next 6 years until all the projects in backlog are completed.

Reductions in starts and starting backlog lead to lower spending. Residential construction is going counter to the trend and will post positive results for new starts, backlog and spending for the next two years. Nonresidential buildings will experience the greatest reductions in new starts, backlog and spending through 2022.

Spending Forecast 2021

2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, up $80 billion to $695 billion. Nonresidential Buildings spending is forecast to drop -11% to $410 billion, a decline of $50 billion. Non-building spending drops -2% to $343 billion, a decline of only $8 billion.

Most all the change in this forecast from previous is an increase to residential spending. Both recent starts and spending increased substantially since previous forecasts. When looking at Total Construction Spending for 2021, residential growth obscures the huge declines in nonresidential.

The monthly rate of spending for residential increased 33% in the 7 months from May to December. The last time we had growth like that was 1983. The last time we had rapid growth in residential work, 2013-2014 and 2004-2005, it took 2 years to increase 33%. Residential spending in Dec 2020 is 21% higher than Dec 2019.

Nonresidential Buildings spending drops -2% to -3% each quarter in 2021. Nonresidential Buildings spending as of Dec. 2020 is down 10% From Feb. 2020 and 8% from Q4 2019. By 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down another 12% lower than Dec. 2020, or 20% below the Feb. 2020 peak. This tracks closely with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020.

Nonresidential Buildings construction will take several years to return to pre-pandemic levels. Although nonresidential buildings spending is down only -2% for 2020, the 15%-25% drop in 2020 construction starts will mostly be noticed in lower 2021 spending. Project starts that were canceled, dropping out of new backlog between April and September 2020, would have had midpoints, or peak spending, March to October 2021. Nonbuilding project midpoints could be even later. The impact of reduced new starts in 2020 is reduced spending and jobs in 2021 and 2022.

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because of lower starts in 2020. Starts lead to spending, but on a curve. A good average for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. 20% of the total of all starts in 2020 gets spent in 2020 (yr1) and that represents also about 20% of all spending. 50% of the total value of 2020 starts gets spent in the following year, 2021. So, 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts. If starts are down 20% and 50% of spending comes from those starts, spending will be down 20% x 50% of the work.

For 2020, the biggest declines are Lodging (-14%), Manufacturing (-10%) and Amuse/Recreation (-7%). Commercial/Retail finishes up +4.2%, but this is entirely due to Warehouse, 60% of the total Commercial/Retail market. Office and Educational are down -4% and -1%. Nonresidential buildings takes the brunt of declines in both 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, every nonresidential building market is down from 2020, some markets down -10% to -20%. Educational, Healthcare and Office are all down -3% to -6%. Non-building infrastructure Power market is down -15%, but Transportation spending is up +10% due to strength in backlog from several multi-billion$ starts over the past few years.

Manufacturing projects have a moderately long duration. So, projects that fell out of the business plan caused a drop in starting backlog of -32% for 2021 and -33% for 2021. It should not be hard to see how that leads to a huge decline in construction spending the next two years. The same thing happened with Amusement/Recreation and Lodging, although lodging tends to have shorter duration, so affects mostly 2021.

A recent AGC survey of construction firms asked, how long do you think it will be before you recover back to pre-COVID-19 (levels of work)? The survey offered “longer than 6 months” as an answer choice. Less than 6 months was the right answer for residential, but my current forecast for full recovery of nonresidential buildings work is longer than 6 years.

Construction Spending drives the headlines. Construction Volume drives jobs demand. Volume is spending minus inflation. Inflation $ do not support jobs. Current outlook shows (recent) peak volume was 2017-2018. Volume is forecast to decline every year out to 2023.

Before we can look at the effect on jobs, we need to adjust spending for inflation. The plot above “Spending by Sector” is current dollars. Below that plot is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice future residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation. No sector shows improvement in volume through Jan. 2023.

When we see spending increasing at less than the rate of inflation, the real work volume is declining. For example, with construction inflation at 3% annually, a nonresidential buildings spending decline of -2.1% in 2020 would reflect a work volume decline of 5.1%. The extent of volume declines would impact the jobs situation.

While 2021 Residential spending will climb about 13%, Nonresidential building spending is forecast to drop -11% and Non-building spending drops -2%.

But with 4% inflation, after inflation Residential Volume is up only 9%, Nonresidential Building is  down 15% and Non-building is down 6%.

By far the greatest decline in volume is in the nonresidential buildings sector. The greatest losses in 2020 are Lodging, Manufacturing, Amusement/Recreation and Commercial/Retail (without warehouse). In 2021, every major nonresidential building market drops in volume, with staggering 30% declines in Lodging and Amusement/Recreation. Commercial/Retail and Manufacturing will drop -13% to -15%.

Here’s the same graphic as above, but in Constant $, so it’s inflation adjusted. That provides the change in volume of work.


Volume of Work

Residential construction volume dropped 12% from the January 2020 peak to the May bottom, but has since recovered 22% and now stands at a post Great Recession high, 10% above one year ago. Although residential spending remains near this high level for the next year, volume after inflation begins to drop by midyear.

Nonresidential volume has been slowly declining and is now down 10% from one year ago. By 3rd quarter 2021, nonresidential buildings volume is forecast down another 15% lower than December, or 25% below the Feb 2020 peak. This tracks right in line with the 24% decline in new construction starts in 2020. Most of the spending from those lost starts would have taken place in 2021, now showing up as a major decline in spending and work volume.

While construction spending in 2021 is forecast up 1.3%, after inflation construction volume is expected to decline 2.5%. Residential construction spending is forecast up 13%, volume up almost 9%, but 2021 nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down -11% leading to a decline in volume after inflation of -14%. Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending in 2021 declines -2.5%, volume drops -6%.

Nonresidential buildings volume declines of 14% project to a loss of over 400,000 jobs next year and non-building infrastructure is projected to drop 60,000 jobs, but Residential could experience growth next year of 250,000 jobs. That could net annual average jobs losses to -200,000. Job losses continue into 2022 with net volume declines of 4%.

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, 10% below the Feb 2020 level.

Download the complete 2021 Initial Forecast here

Along with this forecast document, See these related articles

2021 Construction Economic Forecast – Summary

2021 Construction Inflation

Measuring Forecasting Methodology & Accuracy

Public/Private Construction Spending Forecast 2020-2021

Behind the Headlines – Construction Jobs in 2021

Construction Jobs 2020 down 207,000

Construction Jobs in 2020 down 220,000

edited 3-5-21 to include 2020 revised jobs and 2021 revised outlook.

Construction closes 2020 down 157,000 jobs comparing Dec 2020 to Dec 2019. Average jobs lost over the year is down 220,000, down 2.9%. Also, average hours worked in 2020 is down. The equivalent jobs lost over the year (jobs x hours worked) is down 3.8% or a loss of 281,000 jobs equivalent.

While construction spending in 2021 is forecast up 1.3%, after inflation construction volume is expected to decline 2.5%. Residential construction spending is forecast up 13%, volume up almost 9%, but 2021 nonresidential buildings spending is forecast down -11% leading to a decline in volume after inflation of -14%. Nonbuilding Infrastructure spending in 2021 declines -2.5%, volume drops -6%.

Nonresidential buildings volume declines of 14% project to a loss of over 400,000 jobs next year and non-building infrastructure is projected to drop 60,000 jobs, but Residential could experience growth next year of 250,000 jobs. That could net annual average jobs losses to -200,000. Job losses continue into 2022 with net volume declines of 4%.

It is notable though, even with residential spending and volume increasing, due to large losses in nonresidential buildings, total construction volume declines every month for the next 9 months. Nonresidential buildings volume declines for the next 18 consecutive months.

There is an unusual occurrence in the data for 2021. Annual average jobs in 2021 may decline in total by only 100,000, but from Dec. 2020 to Dec. 2021, jobs decline may be nearer to 400,000. The annual average change is much less due to the massive decline in jobs in April 2020, which by itself caused the 2020 average to drop by almost 100,000. Most months in 2021 will show jobs about 3% to 4% or more below the same month in 2020, except for April, which will show 2021 jobs 10% higher than 2020.

Some who read this post will question how I forecast such a drop in nonresidential work, when some other analysts predict far less declines and even some who predict nonresidential work increases in 2021. It will be very difficult for anyone to support a forecast for increased spending in 2021 given a 22% drop in new construction starts in 2020 for nonresidential buildings work, most of which would have occurred in 2021.

https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ceseeb1a.htm

Pandemic #13 – Midyear Construction Outlook

See Also this update   Construction Forecast Update 10-16-20

SEE ALSO   Pandemic #14 – Impact on Construction Inflation

Midyear Construction Outlook 8-14-20 based on

  • Actual Spending data includes revisions 2018-2019 issued 7-1-20
  • Actual Jobs data includes BLS Jobs to July (12th) issued 8-7-20
  • Forecast includes US Census June 2020 year-to-date spending 8-3-20
  • Forecast includes Dodge construction starts Midyear Update 8-6-20

The first important thing to note is that the US Census, on 7-1-20, revised all spending data back several years. This is an annual occurrence. This analysis includes all revised data, which adds about $30 billion to 2018, $60 billion to 2019, half of all adding to residential, and revises 2020 data. Not everyone has yet updated to this recently revised data, so you may see differences when comparing forecast reports among several firms. If needed, refer to the percent.

Initial impact on spending from project delays/shutdowns

This compares the current construction spending data to a 2020 Forecast from April 1 before any Pandemic Impacts were recorded. It compares actual to what was expected Pre-Pandemic. The change in year-to-date (ytd) all occurred in 2nd quarter data. In fact, 1st quarter ytd growth was forecast at 7% and it came in at 9.5%. 2nd quarter growth was forecast at 6.8% and it came in at 1%.

Construction Spending 2020 year-to-date (ytd) thru June vs 2019

Actual ytd vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast ytd. Nearly all this change is due to projects delayed/shutdown.

  • Nonres Bldgs down 2.4% ytd in 6mo vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg UP 3.0%
  • Residential down 4.9%
  • TOTAL down 1.9%

The measure of decline due to Pandemic delays and shutdowns is not the difference between Q1 and Q2 growth in ytd spending. Nor is the impact measured by the current difference in ytd performance vs 2019. It’s the difference between what was forecast for ytd growth pre-pandemic vs actual ytd growth.

For instance, Residential construction spending thru Q2, as reported in the US Census June construction spending release, is up ytd 7.8%. But pre-pandemic it was forecast to be up 12.7% ytd after 6 months. Hence, residential spending has been impacted by a 12.7% – 7.8% = 4.9% decline from original forecast thru June.

Future impact on spending from lost construction starts

Part one of the decline in construction spending was due to delays/shutdowns. Part two will be the impact of reduced construction starts. That has very little affect right now, but will play out over the next few years. But remember once again, the impact in 2021 is not measured by the difference between 2020 and 2021, its the difference between current forecast for 2020/2021 and the pre-pandemic forecast for 2020/2021.

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%.

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%.

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 affected by a reduction of new starts in 2020 occurs from 2021 into 2022 when many of those lost starts would have been reaching peak spending.

Only about 20% of new starts gets spent in the year they started. 50% gets spent in the next year. The effect 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%.

Construction Spending FORECAST 2020 vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast

This change in forecast incorporates reduced new construction starts for 2020 but also includes the impact from delays and shutdowns.

  • Nonres Bldgs down 5.4% for 2020 vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg down 0.3%
  • Residential down 6.5%
  • TOTAL down 4.5% vs pre-pandemic forecast

Construction Spending FORECAST 2021 vs Pre-Pandemic Forecast

Nearly all this change due to a reduction in new construction starts in 2020. Notice, it is nonresidential buildings that are impacted the most, down 10% from the pre-pandemic forecast.

  • Nonres Bld down 9.9% for 2021 vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • NonBldg down 6.4%
  • Residential UP 5.8%
  • TOTAL down 2.5% vs pre-pandemic forecast

Future impact on backlog from delays/cancellations and reduced starts

Starting Backlog is the Estimate-to-Complete (ETC) value of all projects under contract at the beginning of a period. Projects in starting backlog could have started last month or last year or several years ago. Many projects in backlog extend out several years in the schedule to support future spending, so backlog growth in not an indicator that tracks year over year with spending. Current backlog at the start of 2020 would still contribute some spending for the next 6 years until all the projects in backlog are completed.

The last time starting backlog decreased was 2011. Starting backlog will fall 10% in 2021 and 2% in 2022. Except for residential work, about 80% of annual spending comes from starting backlog.

Some of the projects delayed or canceled started before Jan. 2020. When one of those projects is delayed, the portion of the project delayed gets removed from 2020 backlog, but then gets added to future backlog. When one of those projects is canceled, the portion of the project not yet put-in-place gets removed from 2020 and future backlog. Not only does that reduced future backlog but also that retroactively reduces the backlog that was on record at the start of 2020. Therefore, 2020 backlog is reduced by delays and cancellations and future backlog is increased by delays, but reduced by cancellations and a loss of new construction starts.

The following is the difference between what was forecast for backlog pre-pandemic and currently projected backlog based on delays, cancellations and reduced starts.

Backlog projected for the start of 2020:

  • Total Construction down 3.6% vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • Nonresidential buildings down 8.3%
  • Non-building infrastructure up 0.5%
  • Residential backlog down 2.2%, new starts down 5.4%

Although two thirds of Residential spending comes from new starts within the year, 2020 backlog is down 2.2%. 2020 new starts are down 5.4%.

The biggest changes to 2020 backlog are Manufacturing, Commercial/Retail and Amusement/Recreation, all down 10% to 15%.

Backlog projected for the start of 2021:

  • Total Construction down 9.8% vs pre-pandemic forecast
  • Nonresidential buildings down 15.1%
  • Non-building infrastructure down 9.4%
  • Residential backlog up 3.6%, starts up 8.4%

For 2021, Power and Environmental Public Works are down 20% and 10% respectively, but Nonresidential Buildings shows most of the losses. Lodging -40%, Amusement -28%, Manufacturing -26%, and Office and Commercial both down about 15%.

  

Spending Forecast 2020 – 2021

Now that we have highlighted the change in the forecast compared to the pre-pandemic forecast, let’s look at the current spending forecast for 2020 and 2021.

Spend Recession 2020 Summary 8-14-20

See Pandemic #11 – June Construction Spending Update  for coverage of midyear spending year-to-date through June.

Spend Sector monthly 2015-2022 8-11-20

For 2020, the biggest declines are Manufacturing, Lodging and Amusement/Recreation, all down -8% to -10%. Commercial/Retail ends up +3.9% (this market is 60% Warehouse). Office and Educational are down -3% and -1%. Nonresidential buildings takes the brunt of declines in both 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, every nonresidential building market is down from 2020, some markets down 10% to 20%. Educational, Healthcare and Office are all down 3% to 5%. Non-building infrastructure Power market is down -11%, but Highway and Transportation are up +10% to 20%.

Spend YTD 2020 plus Markets 2020 2021 8-14-20

Almost every market has a weaker spending outlook in 2021 than in 2020, because of lower starts in 2020. Starts lead to spending, but on a curve, a good average for nonresidential buildings is 20:50:30 over three years. 20% of the total of all starts in 2020 gets spent in 2020 (yr1) and that represents also about 20% of all spending. 50% of the total value of 2020 starts gets spent in the following year, 2021. So, 50% of spending in 2021 is generated from 2020 starts. If starts are down 20% and 50% of spending comes from those starts, spending will be down 20% x 50% of the work.

Although starts are forecast down 15% to 20% in 2020 and UP 5% to 15% in 2021, the drop in starts in 2020 has the greatest impact on reducing spending in 2021. By June of 2021, spending is down 10% from Feb 2020 and volume is down 14%.

Before we can look at the effect on jobs, we need to adjust spending for inflation. The plot above “Spending by Sector” is current dollars. Here that plot is adjusted for inflation and is presented in constant $. Constant $ show volume. Notice residential remains in a narrow range after adjusting for inflation. No sector shows improvement in volume through Jan. 2023.

Spend Sector Constant2019 monthly 2015-2022 8-16-20

By far the greatest decline in volume is in the nonresidential buildings sector. Volume declines follow in line with spending declines. The greatest losses in 2020 are Amusement/Recreation, Lodging and Manufacturing. In 2021, every major nonresidential building market drops in volume.

Why 400,000 construction jobs are not coming back

Reduced starts in 2020 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.

Jobs data 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%.

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.

This annual plot back to 1999 shows construction spending vs construction volume. Volume is spending minus inflation.  Notice, volume never recovered to peak 2005. Also notice, recent volume began to decline in 2018.

Spend current vs constant thru 2021 8-11-20

The long-term view of jobs vs volume shows an important point. With few exceptions jobs and volume grow equally. Setting a baseline to zero in 1990, there was a spread in 1992 that was nearly equalized by 1998. Jobs and volume growth remained near equal until 2004. Leading into 2006, spending increased by the most in 30 years. Jobs, which seem to lag slightly, grew 15% from 2004 thru 2006. But inflation posted the highest rate in 30 years. While jobs grew to meet spending growth, almost all the spending growth was inflation. By 2006, jobs growth exceeded construction volume by more than 15%.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2022 2006 deficit 8-14-20

As I said, with few exceptions, jobs and volume grow equally. If we modify history to reset the baseline to 2006 by increasing volume, the plot now shows that all years from 2006 to 2017 remained consistent in jobs growth vs volume growth. So, with exception of 1992 and 2004-2005, all years from 1990 to 2017 had consistent growth in jobs and volume.

Leading into 2017, spending once again reached a rate of near record growth, second only to 2004-2005. Again, jobs, which seem to lag slightly, grew to meet spending growth. But inflation posted the highest rate since 2006. Once again, jobs grew rapidly, but almost all the spending growth was inflation. By 2019, for the second time, jobs growth exceeded construction volume by almost 15%.

Jobs vs Volume 1991-2022 2006 deficit reset 8-14-20

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.

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 declining work volume due to a reduction in new starts in 2020 is indicating by this time next year, not only is there no volume to regain 400,000 lost jobs, but we may lose another 200,000 jobs and be down 600,000 jobs below the Feb 2020 high.

The following plot is the same jobs and volume data as above, only plotted monthly rather than annually. Much of the fear decline of jobs in April has been corrected, but jobs are still down 440,000 from the February high. And yet, the plot shows jobs in excess of construction volume by about 12%.

Jobs vs Volume 2015-Jul 2021 dashed 8-14-20

Volume is set to decline at least for the next two years. There will be no volume growth to support jobs growth and long-term jobs growth already exceeds volume growth by 12%. This is not an environment that supports jobs growth.

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