Construction's unemployment rate declined for the first time in seven months as the industry gained 15,000 jobs in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported. That is construction's first monthly increase in jobs, in seasonally adjusted terms, since June 2007, economists said.

But the 24.9% March rate, though down from February's 27.1%, was still above March 2009's 21.1%, BLS said in its monthly employment report, released on Apr. 2.

Construction economists praised the latest BLS numbers, but were wary about whether last month's improvement is the start of a longer-term jobs trend.

For one thing, construction is clearly seasonal, with volume rising as weather improves, but BLS does not adjust the industry's unemployment rate for seasonal swings.

In particular, construction economists said, major storms in February may have skewed the new month-to-month comparisons.

Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors' chief economist, noted that jobs climbed in buildings, specialty trade and heavy-civil construction segments in March. But he also pointed out that those sectors' March employment levels still were below January totals.

Simonson added that "some of the pickup may have been a short-term rebound from exceptionally severe weather in February."

Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders & Contractors' chief economist, said jobs rose in some important non-residential building segments, But he adds that bad weather "likely suppressed February employment totals, which could have ended up making March look better than it was."

Looking ahead, Basu says that for construction, in seasonally adjusted terms, "Perhaps the most realistic expectation is that April will produce a roughly flat employment performance."

Over all, the economy gained 162,000 non-farm jobs in March, but the national unemployment rate remained at 9.7%, the same level as in the previous two months.

Construction Unemployment Rate
Month Rate in % (percent)
March 24.9%
February 27.1%
January 24.7%
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
Note: Rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics