State construction employment, hiring plans, permits, supplies turn up

Construction employment rose in 35 states over the month and in 26 over the year.

Seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment by state grew in 34 states from April to May, even though overall employment dropped, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported recently. But compared to May 2002, employment in May 2003 was lower in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Construction employment fared a bit better, rising in 35 states over the month and in 26 over the year. The largest May-to-May construction gains were in Alaska, Colorado, and Georgia (+5 percent); the largest losses were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin (-6 percent).

Manpower Inc. reported on June 16 that its latest quarterly survey of employers’ hiring plans found “seven out of 10 sectors indicate that hiring activity will be higher than intentions voiced for the second quarter of 2002. However, eight of the categories envision softer staffing scenes than were projected three months ago.

Mining and Construction are the only categories that foresee increases over both last year and last quarter.”

Building permits in May, seasonally adjusted, rose 3.7 percent from a revised April total and 3.9 percent from the May 2002 level, the government reported on June 17. May’s advance was led by permits for multi-unit housing, with structures of five or more units jumping 18 percent, while permits for single-family homes rose just 0.3 percent.

For the first five months of 2003, both single- and multi-unit permits totaled 3 percent more than in the same period of 2002. Permits are generally a highly reliable indicator of near-term housing construction.

Housing starts climbed a seasonally adjusted 6 percent from April’s revised figure to May but were down by 1 percent from May 2002. Year-to-date starts were up 1 percent from the first five months of 2002 as a 3 percent rise in single-family starts overcame a 4 percent decline in five-plus unit starts.

Output of construction supplies rose 0.3 percent in May but was 3.6 percent below the year-ago level. Factory capacity utilization stood at 72.6 percent, compared to 73.9 percent a year before and an average of 80.2 percent in 1972-2002, suggesting that demand for factory construction will remain dormant for quite some time.

Average weekly earnings, an indicator of whether workers are staying ahead of inflation, rose 2.6 percent, or 0.5 percent after inflation, for the year ending in May, BLS reported on June 17. Weekly earnings for construction workers rose 3.9 percent for the year, with hourly earnings climbing 2.8 percent and average hours growing 1 percent.

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