The downturn in the housing market appears to have caused more layoffs in construction and mortgage lending than real estate sales, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports.

In a new analysis, “Trends in Housing-Related Employment,” MBA researchers say that 45,000 residential housing construction jobs were eliminated in 2006, while employment in the mortgage lending industry in March was down by 19,000 jobs from a year ago.

Meanwhile, industries related to home sales experienced a net job gain averaging 6,900 a month in 2006, the MBA reports.

MBA researchers expect housing starts and home sales will “continue to moderate well into the first half of the year, reaching their troughs around the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth.”

Housing related employment will continue to decline in 2007, but should moderate, rather than endanger, job growth for the country as a whole, the report said. Nonfarm payroll gains totaled 2.3 million in 2006, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.5 percent, down from 4.9 percent in 2005.

“If housing activity recovers gradually late this year as we expect, housing-related employment should, at a minimum, be neutral or contribute to overall job gains in 2008,” the report concludes.

While useful in analyzing trends and the overall impact of job losses in the housing sector on the overall economy, the MBA report may underestimate the number of job losses in real estate sales because many agents are self-employed.

While the National Association of Realtors reported that there were about 1.3 million Realtors at the end of 2006, the MBA report relied on Bureau of Labor payroll statistics, which counted 386,000 real estate agents and brokers at year-end.

“Thus our estimate, which excludes self-employed workers, understates the actual employment in housing-related industries and could underestimate the extent of the decline in housing-related employment,” the report said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes no single measure of housing-related industry payroll employment, but the MBA estimates that about 7 million payroll jobs in the U.S. — about 5 percent of nonfarm, payroll jobs — are associated with the residential housing sector.

The MBA groups housing jobs into two broad categories: residential construction, and jobs related to home sales. The second category includes not only real estate sales, appraisal, title insurance and mortgage lending, but architecture, landscape architecture, building inspection, surveying and mapping services, exterminating and pest control services, decorating, interior design and landscaping services.

In the last decade, residential investment has accounted for about 5 percent of gross domestic product, the MBA noted. Last year, however, the decline in residential investment subtracted from overall economic growth for the first time since 2005.

Residential investment declined at an annual rate of 17.2 percent during the first quarter of 2007, denting overall economic growth by 1 percent.

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