Construction's unemployment rate declined in August to 16.5%-- the industry's lowest jobless rate in eight months--the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Construction's August rate was an improvement over the 18.2% reported for July, but it was more than double the August 2008 rate of 8.2%.

The industry rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

BLS's latest monthly employment report, released Sept. 4, also showed construction continued to lose jobs, dropping 65,000 in August, seasonally adjusted. That's an improvement over the 76,000 jobs shed in July, but is far from anything approaching an increase in the industry workforce. BLS said that since the recession, construction has lost about 1.4 million jobs.

Construction's jobless rate remains well above the nation's overall rate for August, which stood at 9.6% on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Accounting for seasonal variations, the overall August unemployment rate increased to 9.7%, from 9.4% in July, BLS reported.

BLS also noted, "Starting in early 2009, the larger share of [construction's] monthly job losses shifted from the residential to the nonresidential and heavy construction components."

The worst jobless rate for construction in recent months was 21.4% in February 2009. The industry's lowest rate over the past five years was the 4.5% recorded for October 2006.

Robert A. Murray, McGraw-Hill Construction's vice president for economic affairs, says, "The recent construction-start figures have shown a pickup in highway and bridge construction starts, helped by the stimulus funding. The increase in construction starts has meant that some jobs have been saved, easing what would have been a more severe drop in construction employment, but it's still too early to discern whether or not jobs are being created. The rate of descent has eased for construction employment, but the corner has yet to be turned." (ENR is part of McGraw-Hill Construction.)

Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors' chief economist, says that construction industry workers continue to be hit particularly hard. He says that construction's 65,000 jobs lost last month equal 30% of the total non-farm jobs shed, though the industry represents only 5% of the national workforce. Simonson says, "While most Americans are experiencing a recession, construction workers are being forced to cope with depression-like conditions."

Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, notes that states have tapped economic-stimulus funds and "unleashed a bevy of highway [and] road resurfacing projects across the nation." Basu adds, "These projects are now translating into jobs, which is consistent with this month's construction employment performance."

But he observes that "were it not for stimulus dollars now spreading throughout the economy, last month's employment numbers would have been markedly worse."

Construction Unemployment Rate,
past 13 Months
Month Rate in %
August 16.5
July 18.2
June 17.4
May 19.2
April 18.7
March 21.1
February 21.4
January 18.2
December 15.3
November 12.7
October 10.8
September 9.9
August 8.2
Note: Rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics