Construction's employment picture worsened in February, as the industry lost 61,000 jobs, its first monthly decline since last April, and its jobless rate rose, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The latest monthly BLS employment report, released on March 5, showed that construction’s February jobless rate climbed to 9.6% from January’s 9.4%. The rate also was much higher than the February 2020 level of 5.5%.

On a year-over-year basis, total construction employment declined in February by 308,000 jobs, or 4%.

According to BLS revised figures, the February results marked the first monthly falloff in construction jobs since April 2020 when the industry’s total employment plummeted by more than 1 million.

When BLS reported preliminary January figures early last month, they showed a loss of 3,000 jobs. But the bureau now has revised the January numbers upward, to show a modest gain for that month of 1,000.

All but one of construction’s segments lost jobs in February. The exception was residential building, which added 5,300 positions.

The nonresidential specialty trade contractors segment was hit hardest, shedding 36,700 jobs in February.

Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, lost 20,800. Residential specialty trade contractors showed a drop of 5,500 jobs, and the nonresidential building sector’s employment decreased by 3,300.

Architectural and engineering services, a separate BLS category from construction, recorded a modest gain of 1,700 jobs.

ABC, AGC economists' analyses

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said that construction's February falloff in jobs continues the nonresidential sectors downturn that started before that month's severe cold wave and losses in electric power.

In a statement, Simonson added, "Despite recovery in some parts of the economy, private nonresidential construction is still experiencing many canceled and postponed projects and few new starts."

But Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement that the BLS construction numbers "should not cause alarm among stakeholders in the nonresidential construction industry."

Basu said "weather-related interruptions" in the southern U.S. probably led to "some temporary job loss."

The BLS figures for job gains or losses are adjusted for seasonal variations; the bureau's unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted.

Story updated 3/5/2021 p.m. with industry economists' analyses.