A growing number of contractors have reported impacts on building projects and products from the coronavirus outbreak, according to an online survey Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) conducted March 17 to 19. It drew 909 respondents, of whom 28% answered “yes” to the question: “Has any owner, government agency or official directed you to halt or delay work on any projects that are either active or expected to start within the next 30 days?” In addition, 11% replied “yes” regarding projects they were expecting to start more than 30 days from now. Respondents reported various causes for project delays or disruptions: shortage of materials, equipment or parts, 16%; shortage of essential craft workers (including subcontractors’ workers), 11%; shortage of government workers (whether to issue permits or certificates of occupancy, or to conduct inspections or lettings, or to make project awards), 18%. About 22% of respondents said suppliers had notified them or their subcontractors that deliveries will be late or cancelled. For more information, visit www.agc.org/coronavirus-covid-19.
Data reports released the previous week do not reflect impacts of the pandemic but provide some indication of the state of the industry heading into the crisis, AGC stated. The reports were mixed but generally showed continued growth from a year earlier.
Construction employment, not seasonally adjusted, increased year-over-year between January 2019 and January in 200 (56%) of the 358 metro areas (including divisions of larger metros) for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides construction employment data, fell in 95 (27%) and was unchanged in 63, according to an analysis AGC released. BLS combines mining and logging with construction in most metros to avoid disclosing data about industries with few employers. The largest gain occurred in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land (12,400 construction jobs, 5%), followed by the Dallas-Plano-Irving division (9,800 combined jobs, 7%). The largest percentage gain occurred in Lewiston, Idaho-Wash. (15%, 200 construction jobs), followed by Panama City, Fla. (14%, 900 combined jobs). The largest job loss occurred in Baton Rouge, La. (-6,600 construction jobs, -12%). The largest percentage loss occurred in Springfield, Ill. (-22%, -700 combined jobs), followed by Laredo, Texas (-17%, -700 combined jobs). BLS made routine benchmarking revisions dating back several years.
There were 274,000 job openings in construction at the end of January, 8.3% less than the January 2019 total of 299,000, but still the second-highest January total in the series’ 20-year history, BLS reported in its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey release. Construction firms hired 385,000 employees in January, not seasonally adjusted, 4.5% less than the January 2019 total of 403,000. Layoffs and discharges increased by 4.3% year-over-year, to 242,000 from 232,000 in January 2019. Quits declined by 12%, to 155,000 from 176,000 in January 2019. All of these year-over-year changes are consistent with a modest slowdown in construction, although construction employment increased 2% over that span, BLS reported on March 6.
Housing starts (units) in February decreased 1.5% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from January but soared 39% year-over-year from February 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. Multifamily (five or more units) starts slumped 17% from January but jumped 44% year-over-year, although the data are typically volatile and often substantially revised in later months. Single-family starts increased 6.7% for the month and 35% year-over-year. For the first two months of 2020 combined, total starts surged 35% compared to January-February 2019, with multifamily starts up 74% and single-family starts up 21%. Residential permits slipped 5.5% for the month but gained 14% year-over-year. Multifamily permits declined 20% and 5%, respectively. Single-family permits rose 1.7% and 23%. However, the coronavirus epidemic appears certain to cause a huge drop in all residential construction for the next several months, despite a drop in mortgage interest rates, AGC stated.