Factory construction spending booms under Biden

 America's spending on the construction of new factories has experienced a significant increase, largely attributed to the Biden administration's key legislative initiatives such as the CHIPs Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This surge in construction spending has not only contributed to economic growth but also resulted in a substantial boost to the manufacturing-related construction industry. In November, manufacturing-related construction reached a staggering $210 billion annual rate, more than three times the average rate seen in the 2010s, according to recent Census data. This substantial investment has also led to an increase in construction hiring, with job openings in construction rising by 43,000 last month and 111,000 from the previous year.

However, despite this construction boom, it has not necessarily translated to political gains for the Biden administration. Additionally, Republican politicians have claimed credit for a significant portion of the construction activity resulting from the new laws. The implications of this surge in construction are expected to be further reflected in a surge in hiring for manufacturing jobs, as stated by Aaron Sojourner, a senior researcher at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.  

Undeterred by high prices, rising interest rates, autoworker strikes, and a computer chip shortage that slowed assembly lines, American consumers still bought 15.6 million new vehicles last year, 12% more than in 2022, the biggest increase in more than a decade.

Yet sales still haven’t returned to the 17 million rates in the years before the pandemic, and there are signs of a cooling market as buyers aren’t as willing to pay astronomical prices that dealers and manufacturers were charging just months ago.

“You see the consumer making a concerted effort to ensure that they’re getting the best price possible,” said Jonathan Chariff, CEO of South Automotive Group, a 10-dealership group in the Miami area. “They basically feel that this is the right time to buy from a perspective of being able to get the discounts.”

Average auto sales prices peaked in December of 2022 at just over $47,300, with vehicles in short supply because of the global chip shortage that limited production. Some dealers were able to charge over the sticker price to buyers who needed a new ride or had the money to get one.

But the chip shortage gradually eased last year to the point where it’s nearly over, and assembly lines are running at near-normal speeds. General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis endured six-week strikes by the United Auto Workers that ended last fall. As a result, vehicle supplies on dealer lots are strong and growing, and prices are starting to fall as automakers and dealers dangle discounts.

Data from J.D. Power show that average prices in mid-December were down 2.7% from the peak, to around $46,000. But they’re still nowhere near pre-pandemic prices due to a 26% runup from 2020 to 2022 as cash-rich buyers drove up prices mainly by buying loaded-out trucks and SUVs. That was about 10 percentage points higher than the inflation rate for the same period.

Still, Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive, said he expects the gap between the sticker price and the transaction price that consumers pay to widen this year. “We do think that the tables start to turn in 2024,” he said. “Discounting will be the key difference in why transaction prices are declining.”

Discounts, on average, more than doubled year over year in November, Smoke said. “I think we’re starting to see signs that manufacturers are starting to put more into making financing more attractive,” he said, adding that they’re also offering more attractive lease deals.

New vehicle loans averaged around 7% for most of the year, and those could drop even if the Federal Reserve doesn’t start to cut rates, Smoke said.

He and Chariff also say that dealers have had to discount as well. In South Florida, Chariff said he isn’t seeing customer demand back off. His dealerships had strong December sales without the normal lull during the week before Christmas.

There may be more buyers at the lower, more affordable end of the market, which already was heating up last year as supplies rose. For example, sales of the Chevrolet Trax small SUV, which starts at $21,495 including shipping, grew to more than 109,000 last year, four times the 2022 number.

Electric vehicle sales grew 47% to a record 1.19 million for the full year, according to Motorintelligence.com. The EV market share grew from 5.8% in 2022 to 7.6% last year. However EV sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

Gas-electric hybrid sales grew 54% to 1.2 million last year, with market share leaping from 5.6% in 2022 to 7.7%.

Among manufacturers, General Motors, the top seller in the U.S., posted a strong 14% sales increase for the year. Toyota sales grew 7%, while Honda was up 33%. Nissan sales grew 23%, with Hyundai up 12%. Stellantis, the maker of Jeep, Ram, and other vehicles, saw its sales drop about 1% for the year.

Ford’s F-Series pickup trucks are likely to remain the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. when the company reports numbers on Thursday. But General Motors said it sold more full-size pickups than Ford — 839,517 — with its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra combined.

Toyota’s RAV4 small SUV was the country’s top-selling vehicle that wasn’t a pickup truck. RAV4 sales rose 9% last year to almost 435,000.

 In 2023, a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that Washington, D.C., New York, and Vermont had the highest concentrations of homelessness in the United States. The numbers show that Washington, D.C. had an estimated 4,922 people experiencing homelessness, New York had 103,200, and Vermont had 3,295. These equate to 73.3, 52.4, and 50.9 per 10,000 residents, respectively. On the other hand, Mississippi had the lowest rate, with 982 people experiencing homelessness, or 3.3 per 10,000 residents.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts an annual estimation of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, typically in late January, to provide a snapshot that is useful for policymakers, advocates, and researchers.

These figures contribute to a significant national trend of increasing homelessness. U.S. homelessness reached a record high in 2023, affecting approximately 653,100 people. This reflects a 12% increase in homelessness nationwide between 2022 and 2023, as reported by HUD. The 2023 figure marks the highest number of individuals reported as experiencing homelessness on a single night since reporting began in 2007, according to HUD.  

 Corporate America is facing significant challenges in navigating the complex landscape of achieving "equity," "diversity," and creating an inclusive environment. The coming year is expected to be crucial for corporate diversity and inclusion efforts, as attacks against DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) are anticipated to escalate. Employers recognize that maintaining a diverse workforce where employees feel included is vital for attracting and retaining talent, especially in a competitive labor market.

The evolution of corporate diversity efforts has been marked by criticism, ranging from being seen as ineffective window dressing to becoming the target of political backlash. Recent legislative actions in Florida and Texas, and the Supreme Court's decision overturning the use of affirmative action in universities, have drawn attention to corporate diversity initiatives. Businesses are now cautious about implementing programs that could attract legal scrutiny, with particular emphasis on moving away from practices that may appear to enforce quotas.

While facing these challenges, many business leaders continue to express their commitment to diversity. However, companies are adapting the way they approach diversity and inclusion initiatives. Some are focusing on hiring for socioeconomic diversity and reevaluating job requirements to attract diverse talent without targeting specific demographic groups. Additionally, there is a shift in nomenclature, with companies approaching diversity and inclusion efforts through alternative terms such as "wellbeing and inclusion," "employee experience," or "wellness."

Despite the challenging environment, proponents of DEI remain optimistic about the potential for fostering diverse and inclusive workforces within organizations. However, concerns arise that the intense rhetoric and political climate may lead to a watering down of DEI efforts, potentially hindering the actual work of diversity and inclusion. There is a danger that cutbacks in DEI initiatives could result in a decline in diversity within organizations, as evidenced by a recent study linking the presence of DEI teams to more diverse hires and higher employee morale.  

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