Overall U.S. job growth continued to be undermined by the severe downturn affecting the construction industry, as another 75,000 construction workers lost their jobs in January 2010 and the industry’s unemployment rate jumped to 24.7 percent, according to federal employment figures released recently. Excluding construction job losses, nonfarm payroll employment actually rose for the second time in three months, the Associated General Contractors of America reveal. “Unlike the rest of the economy, the construction industry continues to shed jobs at virtually the same rate in January as it has for the past twelve months,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The stimulus appears to be the only bright spot for an industry suffering from depression-era unemployment levels.”

Simonson notes that heavy and civil engineering construction employment, which includes highway construction, was unchanged for the month of January. He suggests that stimulus-funded construction activity was helping keep employment stable in that one industry category. Overall declines in construction activity, however, have cost 926,000 construction workers their jobs since January 2009, a 14.1 percent drop, the construction economist points out. He adds that construction accounted for nearly one-quarter of all job losses in the past 12 months (926,000 out of 4 million, 23 percent), even though the industry employs only 4.3 percent of all nonfarm payroll employees (5.6 million out of 129.5 million).

The construction industry’s troubles are having a broad impact, Simonson explains. Earlier this week, for example, pipe-maker Mueller Water Products was forced to close an iron pipe plant in North Birmingham, Ala., citing, in part, decreased demand for its products. And he warns that with architectural services employment down 14.6 percent over the past 12 months, there are likely to be fewer projects later this year.