Colorado was ranked first among U.S. states with the lowest construction unemployment rates in December, at 4.3%, up from the fourth lowest rate in November based on revised data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state generally had average temperatures for the month (the eastern part of the state had somewhat above normal temperatures), with significant periods above freezing. While Colorado’s rate rose in December, the increase was only 0.4%, well below the December average increase of 1.6% from 2000 through 2014, according to the BLS.

Unusually mild weather in much of the country persisted in December, benefiting construction and reducing the size of the normal seasonal increase in construction unemployment rates, says Bernard Markstein, senior business economist with Markstein Advisors in Washington, D.C. The month was the warmest, or one of the warmest, Decembers on record for most cities in the eastern half of the country.

Not seasonally adjusted (NSA) construction unemployment rates for the country and 32 states were lower than in December 2014. The construction unemployment rates for three states—Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska—were unchanged from a year ago, says research from the Associated Builders and Contractors.

For the year, national employment in construction increased by 273,000. Meanwhile, the year-over-year change in the national NSA construction unemployment rate continued its string of consecutive declines for each month dating back to October 2010. The U.S. rate was down 0.8% in December 2015 from a year ago, the BLS says.

“Most construction firms expect to continue expanding this year,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of AGC of America. “The biggest challenge many firms are facing is finding enough workers to meet available demand.”

But NSA unemployment rates generally have a seasonal pattern, with the national NSA construction unemployment rate typically increasing from November to December, Markstein says. While the national construction unemployment rate did increase from November to December, as it has every year from 2000 to 2014, the 1.3% increase was below the 2% average increase for those years.

The Top Five States

After Colorado, the top states with the lowest construction unemployment rates in December, in order from lowest rate to highest, were Georgia, Virginia, New Hampshire and Texas.

Four states—Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire and Virginia—were also among the top five in November. The unseasonably warm weather in the East helped Georgia, New Hampshire and Virginia turn in low construction unemployment rates. Texas also benefited from relatively mild December weather.

Georgia posted the second lowest construction unemployment rate with an estimated 4.4% rate. In November, Georgia also had the second lowest rate, tied with Iowa, based on revised data (previously reported as tied for third lowest rate with Virginia ).

Iowa’s construction unemployment rate jumped by 4.2% from November, not an unusual occurrence for the state, but the second highest monthly increase among the states. This was mainly due to an unusually low November construction unemployment rate rather than any unusual seasonal deterioration in construction employment in the state.

Further, Iowa had the third-largest drop among the states in its construction unemployment rate from December 2014 (down 3.9%). The net result was to leave the state near the middle of the pack with the 27th lowest unemployment rate, according to the BLS.

Virginia had the third lowest rate with a 4.7% rate. In November, the state had fifth lowest rate based on revised data (previously reported as tied for third lowest rate ).
New Hampshire fell from lowest rate in November to fourth lowest rate in December with a 4.9% construction unemployment rate.

In spite of the continued slowdown in energy due to low oil prices, Texas had the fifth lowest construction unemployment rate‹5.2%. That compared to the 11th lowest rate in November (tied with Utah) based on revised data (previously reported as tenth lowest rate, also tied with Utah ). Utah slipped to 13th lowest with a 6% rate (tied with South Carolina).

The Bottom Five States

The five states with the highest construction unemployment rates (from lowest to highest) were: Illinois, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska.

Four of the five states with the highest estimated construction unemployment rates in December—Alaska, Illinois, New Mexico and North Dakota—were among the five highest in November. Alaska had the highest rate for the third month in a row, at 15.9%, but it was the state’s second-lowest December rate (after last year’s 15.8% rate) going back to December 2002.

Wyoming had the second highest rate with a 14.4% construction unemployment rate. In November, Wyoming had the 12th highest rate. The state had the second largest December year-over-year increase in its rate (3.5%) and the largest monthly increase (6.3%).

For the second month in a row, North Dakota posted the third-highest construction unemployment rate, with a 13.9% rate in December. In a reversal from the heady days of the energy boom led by fracking, North Dakota had the third highest increase (3%) among the states in its construction unemployment rate from December 2014.

New Mexico’s 12.8% rate was the fourth highest rate in December, an improvement in its ranking from November, when it had the second-highest rate. However, the state's 3.8% rate increase from December 2014 was the largest among the states.

Illinois’ 11.9% rate was the fifth-highest estimated construction unemployment rate for the second consecutive month. Its December rate matched its 2014 December unemployment rate. The December 2014 and 2015 rates were its lowest December construction unemployment rates since 2006.