Construction's unemployment rate continued to decline in May, dipping to 16.3%, from April's 17.8%, and also was a significant drop from May 2010's level of 20.1%. But construction's rate still is the highest among U.S. industries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest monthly employment report, released on June 3, shows that construction did gain jobs last month, but only 2,000, according to preliminary figures.

"At the current rate of growth, the construction industry will continue to experience double-digit unemployment rates for a long time," said Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors' chief economist.

Simonson added, "Simply put, there just isn't enough demand for construction to fuel the kind of hiring needed to get industry employment back to where it was in 2007." The industry's annual jobless rate for 2007 was 7.4%.

The jobs picture last month was uneven among construction segments. Residential specialty trade contractors posted a 14,100 gain and heavy and civil construction construction firms added 3,100.

But non-residential specialty trade contractors lost 9,900 jobs and the buildings construction sector showed a decline of 5,300 positions.

The architectural and engineering services industry--which BLS lists separately from its construction category--gained 3,000 jobs in May.

May was the eighth-consecutive month in which construction's jobless rate was better than year-earlier numbers. Nevertheless, construction's May rate again was the worst among U.S. industries.

BLS does not adjust its industry-specific unemployment rates for seasonal swings. Thus jobless rates for the highly seasonal construction industry are worst in the winter and improve in the spring and summer.

The overall U.S. unemployment rate increased in May, to 9.1%, from April's 9.0% as the economy added only 54,000 net jobs in the month.

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, said that the May report "is not good news for construction." He said, "While it is true that nonresidential construction added jobs in May, much of that job growth is a continuation of the economic recovery that had been in place prior to the most recent soft patch."

Basu added, "The hope remains that privately financed activities will rebound more forcefully in the months ahead as large numbers of publicly financed stimulus projects move toward a close."