Construction employment increased in January by 21,000 jobs, as mild winter weather has helped the industry reach a two-year high, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor figures.
The gains, however, remain “fragile amid declining public sector investments in construction and infrastructure,” the Associated General Contractors of America said in the group’s analysis.
“Although it’s great news that the industry has added 52,000 jobs in the past two months, the unemployment rate in construction is still double that of the overall economy, and construction employment remains at 1996 levels,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “It will take another month or two to see if the recent job growth reflects a sustained pickup or merely acceleration of homebuilding and highway projects that normally halt when the ground freezes in December and January.”
Total construction employment reached 5,572,000, or 0.4% higher than a month earlier, and 116,000 (21%) higher than in January 2011, which was an exceptionally cold and snowy month in many regions, Simonson said.
He added that construction employment is still 28% below its peak level of 7,726,000 in April 2006 and at this point is no higher than it was in August 1996.
The industry’s unemployment rate in January was 17.7%, not seasonally adjusted, Simonson said. The rate was down from 22.5% a year earlier, but was double the all-industries rate of 8.8% (8.5%, seasonally adjusted).
Job gains occurred at similar rates across the major construction segments in the past year, Simonson said. Heavy and civil-engineering construction employment grew by 2.6% or 21,000 jobs from January 2011 to last month. Nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors increased their combined employment by 2.0% (17,000 jobs), while employment among residential building and specialty trade contractors rose by 2.1% (41,000 jobs), he said.