Led by gains in the residential sector,  the pace of construction’s recent jobs gains picked up somewhat in September as the industry added 26,000 jobs for the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The BLS employment report for September, released on Oct. 2, also shows that construction’s unemployment rate improved, to 7.1% from August’s 7.6%. But it remains more than twice as high as the year-earlier rate of 3.2%.

After losing more than one million jobs in April because of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, construction has posted increases every month since then. But the number of positions gained had slowed each month, too.

That turned around somewhat in September, with the industry’s 26,000 increase outpacing August’s revised gain of 17,000.

Still, construction’s total employment was down by 279,000, or 3.7%, from its September 2019 level, according to BLS data.

Moreover, most of the pickup in employment has come in the residential construction segment, which added 22,100 jobs for the month.

By comparison, nonresidential building gained 5,300 jobs and heavy and civil engineering construction—which reflects infrastructure work—lost 3,400, the only segment to shed positions.

Architectural and engineering services, a separate BLS industry category from construction, saw its workforce expand by 13,100 jobs in September. In August, it added 17,000.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement, "Construction is becoming steadily more split between a robust residential component and generally stagnant private nonresidential and public construction activity."

Simonson added, "As project cancellations mount, so too will job losses on the nonresidential side unless the federal government provides funding for infrastructure and relief for contractors."

He noted that a recent AGC-Autodesk contractor survey showed that 60% of responding firms had a scheduled project postponed or canceled but only 12% said they had received new or additional work because of the pandemic.

Anirban Basu, chief economist with the Associated Builders and Contractors—which concentrates on nonresidential construction—said that sector's overall employment in September was up by 4,000. In a statement, he called that gain "rather unimpressive." 

Basu cited several worrisome factors, including poor commercial real estate conditions, a tight credit environment, and difficult times for state and local government budgets. But he also says a "significant stimulus package—especially with a substantial infrastructure component—could offset construction employment decline during the winter months."

Story corrected on 10/13/20: Residential sector added 22,100 jobs in September.