Construction added 28,000 jobs in January but its 16.1% unemployment rate was worse than December’s 13.5%, as the winter slowdown in building took firmer hold.

Nevertheless, last month's rate was much improved from the January 2012 level of 17.7% and was the industry's best January number in five years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics latest monthly look at the U.S. employment picture, released on Feb. 1, showed that all construction sectors gained jobs in January except non-residential building, which lost 2,700 positions.

Among construction segments, the specialty trade contractors sector was the leader, picking up 26,000 jobs last month. Heavy/civil construction added 4,000.

The separate architectural and engineering category broke a recent string of monthly employment gains, losing a modest 300 jobs in January.

January’s overall 28,000 increase in the number of construction jobs followed a pickup of 30,000 positions in December.

The BLS industry unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted. In much of the country, construction’s jobless rates tend to worsen in winter months and improve in spring and summer, tracking with the flow of active projects.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said, “We are likely to see continued strong growth in single- and multifamily homebuilding, moderate increases in private nonresidential construction and shrinking investment levels for the next several months.” He added, “Those trends, in turn, will lead to a steady increase in the number of construction jobs.”

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said it’s unclear whether the two straight months of construction jobs gains indicate a strengthening rebound for the industry or reflect other causes. He says those factors include the effects of fluctuating winter weather and “ongoing Hurricane Sandy rebuilding, which presumably will only create a temporary increase in construction activity.”

BLS also reported that the nation’s overall January unemployment rate edged up to 7.9% from December’s 7.8%, though the economy added 157,000 jobs.