Construction employment continues on an upward path, with a gain of 16,000 jobs in August, but the industry’s unemployment rate increased slightly, its first monthly upturn since January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported. The latest BLS employment report, released on Sept. 2, showed that all but one construction segment added jobs in August.

The only sector reporting a decline was heavy and civil engineering construction, which lost 2,000 jobs, despite the ongoing rollout of funds from the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On the positive side, residential construction, which has been softening due to higher interest rates, recorded a surprisingly solid increase of 10,900 jobs. Of that number, specialty trade contractors provided the biggest boost, adding an estimated 8,600 jobs during August. 

In all, for the 12-month period that ended in August, construction employment has increased by 311,000, or 4.2%, to 7.7 million, the bureau’s data show.

Architectural and engineering services, which BLS categorizes separately from construction, also was up in August, posting an increase of 9,500 jobs.

Construction’s unemployment rate showed mixed trends for August. It edged up to 3.9% from July’s 3.5%, breaking a string of six consecutive monthly declines. 

But on a year-over-year basis, the August jobless rate improved from the previous year's 4.6%, BLS reported.

Overall, the economy added 315,000 jobs in August, compared with a surge of 528,000 in July, according to the bureau.

The national unemployment rate increased to 3.7% from July’s 3.5% but still was below the year-earlier level of 4.6%.

Construction Economists Weigh In

Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, said in a statement, that the BLS report "represents good news for contractors.” 

Basu added, “The rise in the overall unemployment rate from 3.5% to 3.7% and the expansion in construction worker unemployment from 3.5% to 3.9% means that the labor market has loosened a bit.” 

Basu also sees indications that increases in worker compensation are slowing, which, he said, “is relief to contractors who have become increasingly pessimistic about their profit margins” according to ABC's latest Construction Confidence Index, released Aug. 9.

BLS reported that average construction hourly earnings in August edged up by just $0.05, or less than 1%, to $34.82.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, said in a statement, "Nonresidential construction activity is growing but contractors universally report difficulty hiring as many workers as they need."

Simonson said, "With the industry unemployment rate hovering below 4%, finding qualified applicants is sure to remain a major challenge."

A recent AGC-Autodesk survey showed that a large percentage of companies that responded said they are having trouble filling job openings. [View ENR coverage of the survey here.]