Construction lost 31,000 jobs in February but the industry's workforce was up year over year and its unemployment rate was down, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
The latest BLS report on U.S. employment, released on March 8, shows that construction’s jobless rate edged downward in February to 6.2%, from January’s 6.4%. The rate also fell from the February 2018 mark of 7.8%.
The BLS unemployment rates don’t factor in seasonal differences but the jobs totals are seasonally adjusted.
The 31,000 plunge in construction jobs during February follows a gain of 53,000 for January. The industry's last monthly jobs decline came in May 2016, a decrease of 8,000.
The February downturn spanned all construction sectors, with the heavy-civil engineering segment shedding 13,200 jobs and residential specialty trades contractors down by 9,300.
Construction economists point to severe February weather in much of the U.S. as a reason for the sharp falloff in construction jobs.
But Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist, calls January’s gain of 53,000 construction jobs “outsized.” Simonson added in a statement, “That suggests contractors may have been able to bring workers on board sooner than normal and had less need to hire in February than usual, even if lousy weather hadn’t stalled some projects.”
AGC also observes that the industry’s total workforce expanded by 223,000, or 3%, over the previous 12 months.
Anirban Basu, the Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, says that the heavy-civil sector, which includes highway infrastructure work, “is especially susceptible to poor weather conditions.”
Construction pay was up, with average hourly earnings climbing 3.1%, to $30.45 in February over the year-earlier figure.
BLS also reported that the U.S economy added only 20,000 jobs in February, far below January’s 223,000 gain.
The overall U.S. jobless rate improved to 3.8% in February from January’s 4.0% and the year-earlier 4.1%.
Basu said that overall U.S. economic expansion “appears to be generally softer in 2019 than it was in 2018."
He cautioned that the February jobs data “should be considered a reminder that economic circumstances can change quickly, which means that contractors are advised to continue to manage cash flow carefully.”
Headline corrected on 3/11/19 to show 31,000 construction jobs were lost in February.