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2018 Construction Outlook Links

Articles Detailing 2018 Construction Outlook

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These links point to articles here on this blog that summarize end-of-year data for 2017 and present projections for 2018.

Spend current vs constant 1993 to 2017 2-6-18

Most Recently Published

Residential Construction Jobs Shortages 2-3-18

2018 Construction Spending – Briefs 1-26-18

Cautions When Using PPI Inputs to Construction! 1-15-18

Indicators To Watch For 2018 Construction Spending? 1-10-18

Spending Summary 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

Backlog 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-10-17

Starts Trends 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-8-17

In What Category is That Construction Cost? 11-15-17

Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-7-17

Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17

Is Infrastructure Construction Spending Near All-Time Lows? 10-10-17


2018 Construction Spending – Briefs 1-26-18

Spending Summary 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

2017 Results

Spending Summary 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

New Starts and 2017 Starting Backlog

2018 Construction Spending – Briefs 1-24-18

Backlog 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-10-17

Starts Trends 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 11-8-17

Construction Starts and Spending Patterns 9-26-17


2018 Spending Forecast

So, About Those Posts “construction spending declines…” 10-4-17

Construction Spending Almost Always Revised UP  5-1-17

Nonresidential Buildings

2018 Construction Spending – Briefs 1-24-18

Nonres Bldgs Construction Spending Midyear 2017 Forecast 7-24-17


Residential Construction Jobs Shortages 2-3-18

Infrastructure Outlook

2018 Construction Spending – Briefs 1-24-18

Is Infrastructure Construction Spending Near All-Time Lows? 10-10-17

Infrastructure – Ramping Up to Add $1 trillion 1-30-17

Calls for Infrastructure Problematic 1-12-17

Public Construction

Spending Summary 2018 Construction Forecast Fall 2017 12-3-17

Infrastructure & Public Construction Spending 3-5-17


Residential Construction Jobs Shortages 2-3-18

Construction Jobs / Workload Balance 11-2-17

Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume 5-5-17


Constant Dollar Construction Growth 11-2-17

Construction Inflation Index Tables UPDATED 2-12-18

Construction Cost Inflation – Commentary  updated 2-13-18

US Historical Construction Cost Indices 1800s to 1957



Residential Construction Jobs Shortages


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.  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?

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 2-1-18

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.

2011-2017 % jobs growth vs % volume growth (based on annual averages)

  • 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.

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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 NonResidential Bldgs 2-3-18

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 NONbuilding 2-3-18


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 said this before, but it could be a large part of this surplus is due to companies hiring to meet revenue (not inflation adjusted volume). While nonresidential volume since 2010 has increased only 12%, spending actually increased 43%. 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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 Residential 2-3-18

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 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.

  1. Are there highly technical specialty jobs in Nonresidential Buildings that would not be transferable to Residential?
  2. 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.
  3. What has been the impact of losing immigrants from the construction workforce?
  4. Is the ratio of immigrant workers in Residential much higher than Nonresidential?
  5. Is the pay more attractive in Nonresidential construction?
  6. 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.

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.

Prod $PIP by Res Nonres only 2001-2017 2-4-18

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

Construction Jobs / Workload Balance


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.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2010 8-8-17

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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 11-25-17

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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 12-8-17

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

Jobs vs Construction Volume – Imbalances


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%.

Jobs vs Volume 2001-2010 8-8-17

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.

Jobs vs Volume 2011-2017 8-8-17

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.

Also SEE Construction Jobs Growing Faster Than Volume 5-5-17

and Is There a Construction Jobs Shortage?  3-10-17

Here is the 11-7-17 extension of latest info Construction Jobs / Workload Balance

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