Construction lost 3,000 jobs in January, the industry’s first monthly downturn since last April, when the pandemic caused construction employment to plunge by more than 1 million, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
The bureau’s new monthly U.S. employment report, released on Feb. 5, also showed that construction’s January unemployment rate dipped slightly to 9.4% from December’s 9.6%.
But last month’s rate also was much worse than the January 2020 pre-pandemic level of 5.4%.
The BLS rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal differences. Construction’s unemployment rates tend to climb in winter months as the volume of construction work declines in much of the country.
The industry’s January jobs picture varied by sector. Residential specialty trade contractors segment shed the most positions, losing 4,200. Nonresidential specialty trade contractors lost 3,300.
Nonresidential building’s workforce was down by 600 positions, BLS said.
But one nonresidential segment—heavy and civil engineering construction—recorded a gain. That category, which reflects infrastructure work, added 2,000 jobs in January
Residential construction was up by 3,000.
Compared with year-earlier figures construction’s total employment was down by 223,000, or 2.9%.
Architectural and engineering services, which BLS categorizes separately from construction, also showed an increase, posting a gain of 4,000 jobs in January.
Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement, "The stagnation in construction employment in January may foreshadow further deterioration in the industry as projects that had started before the pandemic finish up and owners hold off on awarding new work."
Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders & Contractors—which focuses on nonresidential construction—said in a statement that there has been a decline in demand for construction services in that sector, particularly for new construction, in office, lodging and other commercial-buildings categories.
Though heavy-civil construction added jobs in Janary, Basu cautions, Given the damage to many state and local government balance sheets, public construction spending is set to weaken going forward...."
The BLS figures for job gains or losses are adjusted for seasonal variations. The January 2021 and December 2020 jobs numbers are preliminary; they can change before becoming final in the next couple of months.
The economy overall added 49,000 jobs last month and the national unemployment edged down to 6.3% from December’s 6.7%, BLS reported.
(This story will be updated.)