Construction's unemployment rate continued downward in May, its third-straight monthly improvement, despite a loss of 35,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

In its latest monthly employment report, released on June 4, BLS said construction's May jobless rate dipped to 20.1%, from April's 21.8%.

But the rate for last month still exceeded the May 2009 mark of 19.2%. Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors' chief economist, noted that it was the worst May rate for construction since 1976, when BLS began that statistical series.

Moreover, construction's 21.8% rate remains the highest among industry sectors and is well above the second-worst category, "other services," which had a 12.4% jobless rate.

What is perhaps most worrisome about construction's May figures is the industry's seasonally adjusted loss of 35,000 jobs, after posting increases in March and April.

Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the laborers' union, said, "The modest gains we saw earlier this year have been wiped out and the numbers suggest that many construction workers have simply stopped looking for jobs."

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, says that "for the construction industry as a whole, last month represented a setback." He adds, "Undoubtedly, a combination of factors, including still-tight credit and high commercial vacancy rates, conspired to reverse what had been growing construction employment momentum."

The improving construction rates over the spring months aren't surprising, because BLS does not adjust its industry-specific rates for seasonal variations. Construction's jobless rate tends to decline in the spring and summer months, when building activity is busiest.

The economy's overall jobless rate decreased slightly in May, to 9.7%, from 9.9% in April. The 9.7% rate is the same level recorded in January, February and March.

Construction Unemployment Rate
Month Rate in % (percent)
May 20.1%
April 21.8%
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