Construction’s December unemployment rate rose sharply to 9.6% from the year-earlier 5%, although the industry added 51,000 jobs during the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The bureau’s latest monthly status report on the nation’s employment picture, released Jan. 8, also showed that construction’s December jobless rate rose from November’s 7.3% rate.

Construction’s job gains last month came in all industry segments except nonresidential building, which lost 4,300 positions.

Specialty trade contractors showed the strongest results, adding 32,100 jobs in December.

Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure projects, posted surprisingly positive numbers, gaining 15,000 jobs.

Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist, said in a statement, “December’s employment gains likely reflect milder weather than usual for the month rather than sustained demand for projects.”

Even with those increases, however, the industry’s total December employment still was down by 142,000, or 1.9%, from the year-earlier level of 7,555,000.

Simonson also pointed out that a new AGC survey showed that contractors expect to see declines in business in almost all nonresidential construction segments this year and most also report having projects cancelled or postponed.

At the Associated Builders and Contractors, which focuses on nonresidential construction, Chief Economist Anirban Basu had a somewhat upbeat view of that part of the industry, which recorded a net increase of 29,000 jobs in December.

Basu said in a statement that “during much of the pandemic period nonresidential construction has been a relative bulwark of stability, buoyed by its frequent status as an essential industry and a large backlog coming into the crisis.”

He added, “Job growth in heavy engineering suggests that infrastructure spending continues to be an economic stabilizer as the pandemic lingers.”

Overall, BLS reported that the economy lost 140,000 jobs in December—the first monthly decline since April.

The national December unemployment rate was 6.7%, the same as November’s but above the year-earlier 3.6%.

The BLS jobs figures are adjusted for seasonal variations; its unemployment rates aren’t seasonally adjusted.