In a clear sign of construction's persistently severe problems, the industry's jobless rate hit its highest level in at least a decade, climbing to 22.7% in December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The latest BLS monthly employment figures, released Jan. 8, show that construction's December jobless rate rose from November's 19.4%, and also was well above the December 2008 mark of 15.3%.

Moreover, construction's 22.7% rate is the industry's highest since 2000, when BLS changed its system for classifying and defining industries, a bureau spokesperson says. Construction's previous post-2000 high came in February 2009, when the industry's jobless rate was 21.4%. Construction rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Under the pre-2000 BLS classification system, construction's peak unemployment rate since 1948 came in February 1983, when it reached 27.3%

In its latest report, BLS said that construction lost 53,000 jobs in December, seasonally adjusted. That brings the industry's total jobs shed since the recession began to 1.6 million. The 53,000 jobs lost in December include 23,600 among specialty trade contractors, 18,400 in heavy and civil construction and 11,500 in the buildings sector.

Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, said that the December BLS report "was particularly negative for the nonresidential construction sector." He added, "Some of the job losses were due to unseasonably cold temperatures in certain parts of the nation in December." Basu said that bad weather could account for "roughly half" of the month's construction jobs shed.

"Nevertheless," Basu said, "the construction jobs report remains consistent with the notion that the nation¹s nonresidential construction industry sector remains mired in its own recession."

Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors' chief economist, said, "Unfortunately, construction layoffs are dragging down the broader economic picture." Excluding the construction sector's losses, Simonson observed that non-farm payroll employment increased by 31,000 in November and fell by 32,000 in December, seasonally adjusted.

December's overall national unemployment held at 10.0%, the same as November's level, BLS said, noting that there were 85,000 jobs lost during the month. The economy gained 4,000 jobs in November.

Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, said that the December report, "though a setback from November, is consistent with the gradual labor market stabilization we have been seeing over the last several months."

Republicans used the new unemployment numbers to continue to hammer at Democrats' economic policies. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the December BLS report "paints a picture of an economy in which employers and workers are stuck in the muck of higher taxes, job-killing policies and wasteful Washington spending."

Construction Unemployment Rate
Month Rate in %
December 22.7%
November 19.4%
October 18.7%
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
Note: Rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics