Mirroring the slowdown in construction volume in cold-weather months, the industry's December unemployment rate climbed to 11.4% from November’s 8.6% as the industry shed 16,000 jobs.
But last year also proved to be much better for the construction workforce than 2012, as the industry added an average of 10,000 jobs per month, according to the latest Dept. of Labor monthly employment figures, released on Jan. 10,
In addition, the industry’s jobs results last month reflected a split between its two major sectors. Residential segments gained 6,200 jobs, but that was not nearly enough to offset downturns in nonresidential categories.
Nonresidential specialty trades contractors experienced the sharpest decline, losing 12,900 jobs. Heavy-civil construction shed 8,800.
A possible bright signal came in architectural and engineering services, which BLS separates from its construction category. A-E firms added 5,300 positions in December.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said, “Given the variability of weather, especially in winter, the downturn in December is not cause for alarm.”
He added, however, that the data also show “how uneven the recovery remains with residential construction doing very well, but the public sector remains weak and private nonresidential construction is mixed.”
The overall U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December, from 7% the previous month. But the economy added just 74,000 jobs in December, well below the 241,000 jobs gained in November.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said, “It is discouraging to observe losses in momentum in both the broader economy and in nonresidential construction.”
But he added that “construction-specific and economy-wide employment data are likely to improve in the months ahead.”
Terry O'Sullivan, Laborers' International Union of North America general president, said, "While we're proud that 120,000 construction workers went back to work in 2013, the construction unemployment rate remains significantly worse than the national unemployment rate—with 700,000 workers still looking for a job—while wages remain flat."
To boost construction jobs, O'Sullivan said the union will push this year for Congress to pass a new surface transportation bill to fund highway and transit projects. Other construction groups also will lobby hard for that legislation. The current statute, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, is set to expire on Sept. 30.
The BLS industry unemployment rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations, which is a factor in analyzing the figures for the highly seasonal construction industry.