Keeping Track: housing construction

Home-building increase hits a 16-year high

Been hearing a lot of hammers and saws?

Housing starts in September saw their greatest month-to-month rise since 1986 – climbing 13.3 percent from their August level – as builders broke ground on 1.84 million dwellings.

Commerce Department figures showed a boom in the construction of single-family homes, which shot up 18.2 percent, their highest one-month leap since November 1978. Work on apartments and other multifamily units dropped 4.4 percent.

Analysts attributed the phenomenon to low mortgage rates, which are helping to fuel a refinancing boom (story, page 15).

US workers take more 'personal time'

Based on a new survey on worker absenteeism, Americans have evidently reprioritized their lives since last year's terrorist attacks on America.

While the overall rate of unscheduled absences has remained about the same in recent years, the reasons given have shifted, according to the survey released last week by CCH Inc., a business information publisher in Riverwoods, Ill.

The survey of personnel officers at 333 US firms found that only one-third of absences this year were attributed to "illness." Reasons cited for the remaining two-thirds included personal needs, family issues, stress, and what the study termed an "entitlement mentality."

"We're seeing that [worker] loyalties are with themselves and their families." says Lori Rosen, a CCH analyst. Employers, she adds, will need to pay extra attention to this issue to strengthen the bond between workers and their workplaces.

CCH notes that the costs related to absenteeism continue to rise, with an annual per-employee cost averaging $789, up from $755 in 2001.

Human-resource officers ranked alternative work arrangements, compressed work week, leave for school functions, and on-site childcare among the programs that have been most effective at reducing absences.

AOL punches out some pop-up ads

Pop-up advertising from outside merchants will disappear from America Online as the company attempts to regain the affections of its 35 million subscribers by minimizing the annoying screens.

AOL's announcement coincided with the launch of the latest version of the company's software and is in line with other industry moves to shield consumers from pop-up ads.

AOL will continue to run pop-ups and alerts to advertise its own features and services, which include the media and entertainment products of Time Warner.

Also, ads covered by existing contracts will continue for the duration of the contracts and, unlike some of its competitors, AOL is not offering its customers a way to block pop-up ads when they visit Internet sites not controlled by AOL.

Earthlink, for example, the No. 3 Internet service provider behind AOL and Microsoft, recently offered its subscribers software designed to block unwanted pop-up ads from any site they visit.

The AOL decision was fueled by complaints from subscribers who found the ads, which may "pop up" onto a user's computer screen at any time, an annoying interference with their online experience, according to a corporate statement posted on the company's website.

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