I just about knew it when I heard a top-of-hour radio report this morning. When the announcer intoned that there was a 3% increase in "home construction" in April, I said to myself: "There's the Associated Press again, up to its old tricks." That was indeed the case. When I went to the related AP reports, I found that they were, like the economic data coming out during the Obama administration, much worse than expected.
In this morning's coverage of the still bottom-feeding situation in new home construction, the AP's Christopher Rugaber indeed wrote that a 3% seasonally adjusted April increase in housing starts from an annualized 699,000 to 717,000 represented an improvement in "the rate of construction." But he was just warming up. In an afternoon report which can only be characterized both in tone and in detail as an attempt to blow smoke up the public's posterior, he falsely claimed that "Home construction is near a three-year high." I would call that assertion "horse manure," but that would be unfair to equine excrement.
Sorry, Chris -- and Derek Kravitz, Marty Crutsinger, Paul Wiseman, and the rest of those at the alleged and self-described "Essential Global News Network." The statistic known as "housing starts" is not the same thing as "home construction." Never has been. Never will be. In this case, as will be shown, pretending that they are the same has massively deceived readers, listeners and viewers of AP-generated content.
It is insultingly obvious that for "home construction" to be near a three-year high, builders at the very least must be working on almost as many homes now as they were three years ago. But they aren't, and it's not even close. The charts the Census Bureau updates every month in its housing release in the category known as (of all things) "Housing Units Under Construction" (total; single-family) -- items reporters at outfits like the Associated Press should be looking at before they hit the "send" key on their dispatches -- say so:
In fact, comparing the red April 2012 boxes to the green April 2009 boxes, the number of seasonally adjusted total units under construction is down over 32% (a 220,000-unit drop divided by 677,000). Seasonally adjusted single-family units under construction are down 25% (a 83,000-unit drop divided by 327,000). The drop in the not seasonally adjusted results in each case are virtually identical to their seasonally adjusted counterparts. In the past three years, the number of multi-unit dwellings under construction, the difference between the total and single family figures, has fallen 40% on a seasonally adjusted basis, while the raw number is down by 37%.
Allso note that the number of single-family units under construction has actually fallen in the past 12 months. The entire overall increase of 10% in the overall seasonally adjusted number during that time (from 416,000 to 457,000) is due to a 27% increase in the number of multi-unit dwellings in process.
No one can possibly look at the above data and really believe that "home construction is at a three-year high." Overall, the number of units being built is barely above its all-time low. Single-family units are still stuck there.
Readers will also search in vain in the seasonally adjusted figures for a figure supporting Rugaber's other claim that April saw a 3% increase in the "rate of construction" compared to March.
The three-year time frame above represents a pretty good metric by which to measure the Obama administration's performance. After all, its early-2009 home assistance measures and the vaunted stimulus plan enacted in February of that year were supposed to help the housing industry recover and jump start the economy, respectively. Uh, not exactly.
Rugaber used his contrived three-year high as part of the basis for a theorizing in his later report that "Maybe the U.S. economy's strength this winter wasn't just weather-related after all." Spare us, Chris.
Rugaber's reports are the kind you would expect a news organization seeing the above data to withdraw. Readers here know that's not going to happen. After all, we're dealing with the Administration's Press.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.