Posted by: realtormarkpalace | October 10, 2011

Construction jobs make slight Sept. comeback

WASHINGTON – Oct. 10, 2011 – Last week’s mildly positive jobs report was bolstered by better-than-usual hiring in an industry hammered by job losses.

Construction firms added 26,000 jobs in September, the most in seven months. The industry trailed only health care, professional and business services, and information in job creation. Overall, U.S. payrolls grew by 103,000 last month, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent, the Labor Department said.

Contractors have added 53,000 jobs this year after losing about 150,000 last year and 2 million in the recession. Their hires lag behind most other industries in percentage terms, but they’ve lifted construction employment to 5.6 million.

Construction officials say the latest gains could herald at least a moderate turnaround next year for a sector decimated by the housing bust and commercial real estate downturn.

“With private-sector demand inching back up, the construction industry is finally on the brink of recovery from years of hardship and job losses,” says Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group.

September’s showing was fueled by the non-residential sector, which added 30,000 workers. Construction spending by retailers and electric utilities has been particularly strong lately, Census Bureau figures show. That’s partly due to state renewable energy requirements, but may also reflect rebuilding after Hurricane Irene. Also, many retailers are refurbishing stores after putting off projects the past couple of years, says economist Patrick Newport of IHS Global Insight.

Contractor Reed & Reed of Woolwich, Maine, has hired an additional 35 or so workers this year, bringing its staff to 250, as it scrambles to meet a surge in wind-power construction in New England, says CEO Jack Parker. “We’ve been fortunate,” he says.

Housing starts are still weak, and residential building firms cut 3,800 workers in September.

But both residential and commercial building inventories have shrunk so much that a 2012 rebound is almost inevitable, although it may not arrive until the second half, says IHS’ Michael Montgomery. He predicts construction payrolls will rise by about 200,000 in 2012.

Job growth could suffer from reduced federal infrastructure spending, Sandherr warns. Construction work made up more than half the fiscal 2011 budget cuts by Congress in April, he says.

© Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Paul Davidson

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