Construction’s unemployment rate continued its long stretch of year-over-year improvement in February, falling to 8.7% from the year-earlier 10.6%, but the rate was slightly worse than January’s 8.5%, the Labor Dept. has reported.

The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics also said in its monthly employment status report, released on March 4, that construction gained 19,000 jobs in February.

The industry’s unemployment rate has recorded a year-over-year decline in each month since September 2010, BLS figures show. The jobless rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal differences.

Nearly all industry segments added jobs last month, led by residential specialty trade contractors, whose workforce expanded by 13,800. Buildings construction picked up 6,400 jobs and the heavy-civil engineering sector added 700.

The only construction category to lose jobs in February was nonresidential specialty trade contractors, which shed 1,500 positions.

Architectural and engineering services, listed separately from construction, gained 5,500 jobs in February.

Construction economists point out that total construction employment has risen 4% in the last year, to more than 6.6 million.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement, "The overall picture for construction employment is very positive with robust job growth and very little unemployment." He added, "But it appears that many nonresidential construction firms have run out of people to hire to keep pace with demand for new projects."

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors  chief economist, said, "Though [the overall] employment report will be viewed positively by most stakeholders in the economy, it was not a great report for  nonresidential construction." He noted that nonresidential specialty trade contractors have lost jobs in two straight months, after adding 31,000 positions in the same months last year.

Simonson and Basu also observed the mixed signals in nonresidential construction data: softness in job totals but strong construction spending gains. Simonson thinks that a worker shortage might explain the apparent disconnect; Basu says, "Undoubtedly, seasonal factors are at work."

More broadly, BLS also reported that the overall national unemployment rate was 4.9% in February, the same as January’s level, as the economy added 242,000 jobs.