These gains are showing up in government statistics, with more than 625,000 new jobs created in March and April alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in April, "employment rose substantially in several service-providing industries, construction continued to add jobs and there was a noteworthy job gain in durable goods manufacturing."
With payroll employment now posting strong gains and demand for new housing expected to hold steady at an average 2 million units a year for the next decade, Howard said that the only dark cloud on the horizon threatening to curb robust growth in housing is on the building materials front.
Housing Production Could Sputter
Worried that housing production could sputter in areas feeling the brunt of the cement shortages, Howard urged Evans to examine how the barrier to the importation of Mexican cement is exacerbating the problem, and the secretary said that he would actively explore the possibility of suspending the duties to keep shortages from spreading further and threatening robust housing markets.
Several factors have contributed to the cement shortages, which first began surfacing several weeks ago in Florida. Demand in the U.S. has picked up considerably since the fall of 2003 and global transportation problems are constraining imports of cement from Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Chinaís surging economic activity is tying up shipping lines for cement and other building materials from major exporters to U.S. ports, analysts say. This has had a disproportionate impact on Florida and other Southeast states that import as much as 50% of their cement.
Mexican Imports a Logical Source
As cement supplies tighten, Mexico would seem to be the most logical source for additional imports.
NAHB has been in contact with Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), who has asked the Commerce Department to investigate what actions can be taken to help alleviate the cement shortages.
Through its newly formed Concrete Home Building Council, NAHB is urging domestic cement producers to increase production and place a top priority on filling demand from the housing industry.
The NAHB Research Center is also studying possible technological solutions and materials that can be substituted for cement.
While it is difficult to predict how much longer this problem is likely to persist, several analysts believe that supplies could remain tight through the balance of the year until the current shipping traffic jam eases.
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