The Great Construction Employment Mystery Revisited

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Yesterday I wondered why residential construction employment was flat even though residential housing starts had doubled over the past 18 months. Today, a regular reader writes in to suggest that I’m just not being patient enough. Yes, housing starts are up, but on a historical scale they’re still about as low as they’ve ever been. Even with the recent doubling, starts have only barely reached the level they were at in the middle of the 1991 recession, and residential construction employment is about the same as it was then (green lines in chart below). Employment is a lagging indicator, and we just need another year or two of growth before we’re going to see a similar rebound in construction employment. Calculated Risk wrote about this a few months ago.

The chart below shows only residential construction employment, which tracks housing starts better than the overall construction employment figure. But even so, you can see the lag and you can see where we are compared to historical levels. Unless I hear something better, it sounds like this basically solves the mystery.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate