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Buried in Jobs Report: Strong Growth in Construction

Buried in the numbers produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) December 2012 jobs report is the fact that nearly one-fifth of the 155,000 jobs added in the past month were in the construction industry. After five years of hemorrhaging jobs the construction industry has been rebounding over the past three months, a sign that some economists say indicates there is hope for the economy on the whole.

Since 2007, more than 2,000,000 jobs have been lost in the construction industry. Alternative work hard been similarly hard to come by industry-specific skills do not translate easily into other sectors. Arne L. Kalleberg, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told The Washington Post:

"These jobs have been the backbone of the middle class for many, many years.  Now they’re coming back.”

It is very likely that this growth in construction directly correlates with the resurgent housing market though large-scale projects tend to employ much larger numbers of people at once. After the housing bubble burst, construction of new homes slowed to a grinding halt. Now, as the economy gets its legs back under it, construction is facing a surge in hiring. 

According to John J. Canally Jr., economist and investment strategist for LPL Financial:

“We underbuilt houses from 2006 until this year. At some point, there is a long-term catch-up where you have to go out and build a lot of new houses."

A resurgence in the construction industry may help right one of the glaring problems in the monthly jobs report: unemployment is especially high among young men. More than a quarter of 16-to-19-year old men in the workforce are without jobs and 14 percent of men between 20-24 are out of work. With accessability to training and apprenticeship programs, many of these young men may find themselves on their way to rewarding careers thanks to construction’s rebound.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, spoke of the phenomenon:

“By and large, those guys have been left on the sidelines the last few years and construction will give them much more of an option in 2013.”

Still, context is required. Sarah Watt, an economic analyst for Wells Fargo, noted this in telling the Washington Post:

“Even if the housing recovery does maintain the legs we’ve seen recently, we’re not going to hit the boom levels. You are going to need some other industries where you don’t traditionally need a college education”

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