Bad news seems to be piling on these days. No sooner than I hear the governor telling the legislature and state workers that the fun is over, we’re falling off a bridge or cliff or whatever if we don’t find $24 billion by July, I received the latest construction employment stats from the Associated General Contractors.

AGC’s chief economist Ken Simonson reports that construction employment fell in 276 of the nation’s largest 299 metro areas from April 2008 to April 2009.

“Job loss figures like these are exactly what prompted Congress and the Administration to craft a stimulus package designed to get Americans back to work as quickly as possible,” says Simonson. “Putting these funds to good use as quickly as possible is the best way to get Americans back to work and the economy back on track.”

Among the communities seeing the largest declines in construction employment were Pascagoula, Mississippi, with a 38.8% decline; Redding, California, with a 31.6% decline; Tucson, Arizona, with a 29.2% decline; and Reno-Sparks, Nevada, with a 29.1% decline.By comparison, Simonson says construction employment grew in only 19 metro areas, led by an 8% gain in Odessa, Texas; 7.3% in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and a 5.7% in Decatur, Illinois.

Simonson notes that the construction sector has seen the largest decline in employment relative to the rest of the economy. For example, overall construction unemployment was at 18.7% in April 2009 while the overall unemployment rate was 8.6%, not seasonally adjusted. 

“Indeed, while construction accounts for one fifth of the U.S. workforce, construction workers account for 20% of all jobs lost in the past year,” says Simonson. 

However, Simonson reports that uncertainty over the application of Buy American provisions was potentially delaying the award of some projects, driving up the cost of others and even forcing contractors to rip out pipes already laid for at least one project in California. He adds that some local water and sewer agencies were reportedly forgoing stimulus funds because of onerous certification and reporting requirement. 

“We need to make sure needless red tape and regulations don’t keep construction workers off the job.” Simonson says.

To find your metro area in this report, click here.

So, even with all this bad news, I also received some rather encouraging signs. In an email from a PR person (What? You don’t have one? In this economic climate?), a list of current and recently completed education projects of her client’s was sent to us to consider in our annual School Construction feature section in August.

That client, McCarthy Building Cos., is currently working on 15 school projects, including CSU Sacramento’s $41.5-million Recreation & Wellness Center, Carlsbad High School’s $86-million renovation, Huntington Beach Union High School District’s $238-million modernization and expansion project and the San Mateo Community College District’s College of San Mateo’s $160 million Student Services and Faculty Administration Building.

That’s just one construction firm.

And, in working on an assignment for ENR, I found that the Los Angeles Community College District is spending $5 billion on multiple big projects and employing all sorts of construction firms down south.

School projects, especially the ones supported by regional bond programs passed long ago, are moving ahead. Five of the top 10 Top Starts from our June issue are in the education sector.