Construction gained no jobs in April, but the industry’s unemployment rate improved from the March and year-earlier levels, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The latest BLS monthly report on U.S. employment, released May 7, showed that construction jobs in April totaled 7,452,000—flat compared with March’s figure.

The industry’s total employment also was down by 196,000, or 2.6%, from the February 2020, pre-pandemic level of 7,648,000,

Construction economists said that contractors are having difficulty filling positions and are also facing shortages and higher prices for building materials.

The results were mixed among industry sectors. Heavy and civil engineering construction, which includes infrastructure work, posted the best numbers, adding 6,300 in April.

Employment in the residential specialty trade contractors segment was up by 4,400.

Nonresidential building recorded a gain of 2,600 for the month and buildings construction added a modest 1,300.

But the industry’s April jobs total was dragged down by nonresidential specialty trade contractors, which lost 11,800 jobs. Residential buildings shed 1,300 positions—a surprise, given residential construction’s strong volume in recent months.

One bright spot in the BLS figures came in architectural and engineering services—which the bureau categorizes separately from construction. That sector’s employment rose by 11,600 last month.

Construction’s unemployment rate for April dipped to 7.7% from March’s 8.6%. It also was far below the year-earlier 16.6% mark, the worst monthly number during the pandemic.

The BLS unemployment rates do not reflect seasonal variations, but the monthly jobs totals are seasonally adjusted.

Construction contractor groups say they are facing shortages of personnel and materials.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America's chief economist, said in a statement, "Contractors are experiencing unprecedented intensity and range of cost increases, supply-chain disruptions and worker shortages that have kept firms from increasing their workforces."

Simonson added, "These challenges will make it difficult for contractors to rebound as the pandemic appears to wane."

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors' chief economist, said in a statement that employers are seeking more workers "but a combination of stimulus payments, stepped-up unemployment insurance benefits, lingering fear of infection and remote schooling s slowing growth in labor force participation."

Basu added, "Input shortages ranging from softwood lumber and steel to copper and semiconductors have pushed materials costs higher while simultaneously slowing down the ramping off production."