Construction's unemployment rate fell in February, to 17.1% from January’s 17.8%, and also was much better than February 2011’s 21.8% level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported, but BLS also said the industry lost 13,000 jobs last month.
The bureau's latest monthly report, released on March 9, indicated that construction’s jobless rate has showed year-over-year improvement for 17 consecutive months.
The BLS unemployment rates for construction and other industries are not adjusted to account for seasonal variations.
The improvement in construction's jobless rate and drop in its total jobs are apparently mixed signals about the industry's health. But Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, says that warmer-than-usual winter weather helps explain the results.
Simonson says, "Since many firms were able to either get an early start, or a late finish, to construction activity in December and January because of mild conditions, [February's] job decline is probably more of a seasonal correction than the start of a new trend." He notes that construction added 47,000 jobs over December and January combined.
BLS's detailed breakdown of construction industry segments shows that specialty trade contractors—the largest sector in the industry—were hard hit, losing 15,400 jobs in February. The heavy-civil construction area shed 1,300 positions.
On the plus side, the buildings segment posted an increase of 3,800 jobs for the month.
In addition, architectural and engineering services—a separate BLS industry category— gained 4,300 jobs in February.
AGC's Simonson notes that construction employment has risen by 65,000, or 1.2%, since February 2011, which he terms a "lamentably small" increase compared with the 2.2 million jobs the industry has lost since early 2006.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said, "The loss of nonresidential construction jobs in February represented an end to a three-month winning streak." He said seasonal factors may be part of the explanation for the downturn in jobs and noted that the numbers later are revised, often significantly, by BLS.