As colder weather arrived in much of the U.S., construction’s December unemployment rate rose to 7.4% from November’s 5.7% but still was an improvement over the year-earlier 7.5%, the Labor Dept. has reported.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest monthly employment report, released on Jan. 6, also showed that construction lost 3,000 jobs in December, compared with November, but gained 102,000 year over year.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement that the BLS report sends "mixed signals" about the industry. He added, "Although a dip in employment might normally be a sign of declining demand, in this case the industry is raising wages and taking other steps to attract and retain workers."
Simonson noted that average hourly earnings were up 3% in the past year, to $28.42 per hour, and recently have been increasing at their fastest annual rate since 2009. He said that trend signals that contractors want to add workers.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement that construction firms are having trouble finding qualified workers. "Accordingly," Basu said, "many construction firms are required to do more with fewer people, which should eventually show up in construction productivity data that reflect the amount of output generated by the average worker on a per-hour-worked basis.
The BLS unemployment rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations. The volume of construction work tends to decline, and the industry’s jobless rate climbs, as temperatures fall in large parts of the country.
The BLS report’s monthly jobs figures, which are seasonally adjusted, show that residential specialty trade contractors added 11,700 positions, but those gains were outweighed by losses in all other industry segments.
Heavy-civil engineering construction posted the largest decline, shedding 8,900 jobs.
Nonresidential specialty trades and buildings construction each saw their workforce shrink by 3,200 positions.
Basu said, "The significant number of jobs lost in the heavy and civil engineering segment indicates that U.S. spending on infrastructure remains low." He added, "For much of the year, the level of spending in publicly financed segment was stuck in reverse, and [the BLS] data indicate that increased investment in the shared built environment is much needed."
BLS also reported that the overall U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 4.7% from November’s 4.6%, despite a gain of 156,000 jobs during the month.
Story updated 1:52 pm 1/6/17 with industry economists' comments.