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The Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Why it matters: Construction is a barometer of the economy, and "when it starts to falter, it's a sign that there's cooling ahead," according to a joint survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and construction firm USG, first provided to Axios.

  • Confidence in new business prospects, expectations for future revenue and reported buildups of work to be completed all dropped for commercial real estate contractors — a first since the survey launched in 2017.
  • The caveat: The survey was conducted in January — during the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

What it means: The results reflect "increasing caution about a number of factors — the state of the economy, rising interest rates [and] concerns over material costs," according to the press release.

  • "Anecdotal responses suggest that the possibility of an economic slowdown in the next few years is dampening longer-term optimism."
  • Businesses also said tariffs and President Trump’s trade war were the most important business concerns for the next year.

The big picture: The construction and real estate industries were responsible for over 10% of overall economic growth in 2017, the latest full year for which data are available. But there are mixed signals about the strength of the sector.

Overall construction spending topped economists' expectations in January, but the Commerce Department also said that spending in the final 2 months of 2018 was weaker than initially reported.

  • That could shave up to 0.3 percentage points off of fourth quarter GDP, Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, estimates, which was already dragged down by lackluster home construction.

The drop-off in construction jobs last month was steep — employment at construction sites saw the biggest drop since December 2013 (though many economist chalk that up to colder temperatures in February).

The other side: Michael Bellaman, the head of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that represents over 20,000 construction firms, tells Axios the overall construction industry remains strong.

  • "There's a high level of confidence in the business community. What that means is if I'm a CEO, I'm going to invest in a construction project. I'm going to build a new building," Bellaman said.
  • The trade group conducts its own confidence survey, the Construction Confidence Index, which recently showed waning confidence of commercial builders at the end of last year, but signaled "ongoing expansion in construction activity."

Go deeper

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.