The construction industry’s June unemployment rate declined to 12.8% from May’s 14.2%, as the industry gained 2,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The latest BLS monthly statistics, released on July 6, also showed that construction’s jobless rate last month was down significantly from the June 2011 level of 15.6%. The rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors chief economist, says that even counting the jobs gained last month, total construction employment “has essentially been stagnant for much of the past two years,” hovering around 5.5 million. Simonson notes that since 2010, about 750,000 workers have left the industry, either to take positions in other fields, go back to school or retire.

Construction’s job gains in June came in the specialty trade contractors sector, which picked up 10,000 positions. Simonson says the increase in residential specialty trades employment indicates continued strength in multifamily-housing construction. The specialty trades’ gains more than offset the 6,900 jobs lost in buildings construction and the 2,000 shed in heavy and civil construction.

Architectural and engineering services, a separate BLS category from construction, posted a gain of 1,500 jobs.

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, says the pickup in nonresidential construction jobs is due, at least partly, to the U.S. economy's relatively strong fourth quarter. Basu says, "The associated increase in investor/developer confidence likely pushed many projects ahead...."

Construction's June unemployment rate was the highest among major U.S. industries. It also was well above the overall U.S. rate of 8.2%, which was the same as in May. The economy added 80,000 jobs last month, which is below the level needed to cut the jobless rate.

Basu says the June BLS report had "a bit of good news for the construction industry" but adds that the employment picture last month for the U.S. economy as a whole is "widely viewed as disappointing."