Construction hiring surged in February by the most in almost six years, highlighting the benefits to the U.S. economy from a revitalized housing market.
Builder payrolls surged by 48,000 workers, the most since March 2007 and the ninth straight increase, Labor Department data this month showed. The gain accounted for 20 percent of the 236,000 increase in total employment. The jobless rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent.
Orders at builders including D.R. Horton Inc. and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. are spurring demand for contractors – from electricians and roofers to plumbers and masons. The industry that was at the center of the financial crisis has emerged as an economic bright spot as Americans take advantage of cheap borrowing costs and improving access to credit.
The construction gains are “a very positive sign,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, N.C., a unit of the largest U.S. mortgage lender. “The overall flow of the economy is really improving, and I’m encouraged that housing is continuing to kick in.”
Silvia estimates as many as 30,000 construction workers a month will find jobs in the next year. The industry, which includes homebuilding, commercial building and civil engineering, took on 154,000 workers from September through February, the strongest six months gains in employment since the period ended April 2006.
Payrolls at specialty-trade contractors, who perform work such as pouring concrete and installing electrical wire, have climbed 106,000 in the last six months, accounting for about 69 percent of the gain in total construction employment.
In residential building, payrolls totaled 577,500 in February, the most since June 2010, according to Labor Department data.
D.R. Horton, the largest U.S. homebuilder by volume, said in January its homebuilding revenue for the quarter rose 39 percent from a year earlier to $1.23 billion. Orders jumped 39 percent to 5,259 homes. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company’s contract backlog, an indication of future sales, rose 80 percent to $1.76 billion.