Construction’s May unemployment figures show a tale of two indicators: the industry lost 28,000 jobs in the month, but its jobless rate edged down to 14.2% from April's 14.5%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The total jobs lost in May represent the largest monthly decline in two years, said Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors chief economist.
BLS's monthly look at the U.S. employment picture, released on June 1, also noted that last month’s construction jobless rate improved over May 2011's 16.3%.
Construction’s job losses last month were concentrated in the specialty trade contractors sector, which shed 17,700 positions, and the heavy-civil engineering segment, where jobs fell by 11,200. Simonson said, "In particular, cuts to public-sector investments are taking their toll," noting the drop in heavy-civil sector jobs.
A modest bright spot was nonresidential buildings construction, which gained 1,500 jobs in May.
Architectural and engineering services picked up 300 jobs last month. BLS categorizes A/E services separately from construction.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said, "There was really nothing to cheer about in this report." He added, "While the construction industry unemployment rate did drop, it's likely an indication that many construction workers have either found jobs in other industries or have simply vanished from the workforce."
Basu also said, "For now, the outlook for the nonresidential construction sector remains decidedly negative, with prospects for another near-term U.S. recession climbing materially in recent months."
The overall national unemployment rate edged up in May to 8.2% from April’s 8.1%, as the economy added only 69,000 jobs. Gains were registered in the health care, transportation and warehousing, wholesale trade and manufacturing industries.
May was the 17th-consecutive month in which construction’s unemployment rate was better then the year-earlier level.