Despite a pickup in federal stimulus projects, construction's unemployment rate grew worse in September, rising to 17.1%, from 16.5% in August, as the industry lost another 64,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Construction's September jobless rate also was well above the year-earlier mark of 9.9%. Construction's rate remains the highest among U.S. industries.

In its latest monthly report, issued Oct. 2, BLS noted that construction has shed a total of 1.5 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.
Of September's 64,000 construction jobs lost, 39,000 were in the non-residential sector and 12,000 in heavy construction, BLS said.

The report also observed that construction has seen average job losses of 66,000 from May through September, compared with an average of 117,000 from November through April.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Sept. 30 that the number of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded highway and transit projects under contract and under construction as of Aug. 31 has increased from the month-earlier level and that those projects have created or preserved about 122,000 "direct, on-project jobs." The committee's figures are based on reports from states and other recipients of the stimulus transportation funds.

Construction economists acknowledged that the stimulus has been a help, but they saw no positive signals in the latest BLS report. Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors' chief economist, noted that a large share of construction's September job losses came in the non-residential sector and said, "The housing industry may be stabilizing, but the broader construction crisis is only getting worse. While the stimulus is helping slow the decline, it's clearly far from enough to reverse the sweeping industry-wide layoffs on its own."

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, says, "The implication of today's report is that construction employment is not poised to recover anytime soon." He adds, "Though construction clearly benefits from the addition of infrastructure monies as part of February's stimulus package, this financial assistance does not appear to be enough to offset the persistent tight credit market and the lack of demand for new retail, lodging, office and other space."

The construction unemployment rate hit a peak in February at 21.4%. It declined in March and April but since then has seesawed. The rate rose in May, declined in June, bounced upward in July, dipped again in August, and was back up in September. Those rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

The overall U.S. unemployment rate increased to 9.8% in September, from 9.7% in August, seasonally adjusted, BLS said.

Construction Unemployment Rate,
past 13 Months
Month Rate in %
Spetember 17.1%
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
Note: Rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics