The end of 2014 saw an acceleration of job creation that compared favorably with the poor start to the year. Combined with the ongoing expansion of consumer confidence, these trends will help support housing demand and residential construction during 2015.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that payroll employment expanded by 257,000 in January, with an additional 147,000 jobs reported in November and December after data revisions. The unemployment rate inched up to 5.7% in January from 5.6% in December, which is in fact a positive development as this change was due to more individuals seeking work. In January, home builders and remodelers added 20,100 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. Over the last 12 months, the industry has created 162,000 jobs.
The separate BLS JOLTS survey of job openings and turnover suggests additional hiring ahead. For the overall economy, the job opening rate (number of unfilled jobs as a percent of total employment) reached 3.5% in December, the highest rate for the post-recession period.
The number of open construction sector jobs for December (on a seasonally adjusted basis) rose to 147,000. The December level marks the third-highest monthly measure of unfilled jobs in construction during the post-recession period. Quits surged in the construction sector for the month, along with a moderate increase in hiring, which may reflect some worker churn among employers.
The good news on the employment front has helped consumer confidence. The January 2015 University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment soared to its highest level since January 2004. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index also increased sharply, reaching its highest level since August 2007.
With respect to the broadest measure of the economy, the advance estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased at a 2.6% annual rate. This was below expectations, which were generally around 3%.