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‘01 housing starts rose 2.2%

SHARE ‘01 housing starts rose 2.2%

WASHINGTON — Construction of new homes and apartments fell 3.3 percent in December but the total housing activity for the year managed a solid 2.2 percent increase, a remarkable achievement for an industry that normally is one of the hardest hit during a recession.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that construction was started on 1.57 million single-family homes and apartments last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. That was 3.3 percent below the November level, which had risen a sharp 7 percent.

Even with the December decline, housing construction for all of 2001 rose by a solid 2.2 percent to 1.60 million units, the third-highest performance in the last 15 years.

"Considering everything that happened last year, the performance of the housing sector was nothing short of phenomenal," said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

He predicted 2002 would also be a good year for housing, if the economy comes out of recession as expected in the early part of the year. He said he expected total construction would remain around the 1.6 million units of 2000.

In a second report, the Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted total of 384,000. It was the second consecutive weekly decline, but it stemmed from the government's method of adjusting for normal seasonal variations.

Without the seasonal adjustments, claims would have increased by the largest amount in a single week since the 1990-91 recession. However, analysts blamed much of that increase on a surge in claims in California, where unemployed workers had delayed filing for benefits in previous weeks to take advantage of a law taking effect Jan. 6 that increased maximum benefits.