December employment figures issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that while private-sector employment for the general economy rose for the 12th month in a row, by 1.3% in December, construction employment fell for the eighth time in 12 months. More than one in five construction workers (20.7%) is unemployed.
Analysis by Associated General Contractors' Chief Economist Ken Simonson shows that while the construction unemployment rate is down from 22.7% in December of 2009, it is more than double the 9.1% of the economy overall. Construction-industry employment ended the year 1.6% below the December 2009 mark.
Results were mixed by segment: employment in heavy and civil engineering construction fell 1.5% in December but climbed 2.3% year-over-year, probably reflecting unseasonably bad mid-December weather offsetting some of the yearlong strength in federal stimulus, military base realignment and Gulf Coast hurricane-related work. Nonresidential building construction employment edged down 0.1% in December but ticked up 0.8% year-over-year; employment among nonresidential specialty trade contractors was unchanged for the month but down 1.7% compared to December 2009; residential specialty trade contractors, +0.3% for the month and -2.8% year over year; and residential building, -1.0% and -6.2%. Architectural and engineering services employment, a harbinger of future demand for construction, dipped 0.1% for the month and was down 1.3% compared to December 2009.
Average hourly earnings in construction crept up 4 cents to $25.40, seasonally adjusted, a gain of 37 cents (1.5%) from December 2009.