ARLINGTON, VA - Deteriorating demand for construction services continued to drag on the economy as new federal figures show another 53,000 construction workers lost their jobs in December and the industry’s unemployment rate climbed to 22.7%.

The Associated General Contractors of America said, “(T)he new employment data underscores the need to rethink health care legislation that singles out small construction firms for new mandates and fees.”

“If it wasn’t for construction, our economic picture would actually be getting slightly better,” said the association’s chief economist, Ken Simonson. “Unfortunately, construction layoffs are dragging down the broader employment picture.” Simonson noted that outside of construction, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 31,000, seasonally adjusted, in November and shrank by just 32,000 in December. Construction, however, lost 80,000 more jobs in both months, he added, while the industry’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, is now more than double the all-industry rate.

According to the new federal employment figures, more than 2 million construction workers are currently unemployed; 934,000 construction workers lost their jobs during the past 12 months alone. Simonson added that construction employment declined by 0.9% between November and December and 13.7% between December 2008 and 2009. The construction economist said falling demand for nonresidential construction in particular was driving the sector’s job losses, with 34,900 nonresidential jobs lost in December. He noted that federal figures released earlier this week indicate that construction spending declined by $137 billion between November 2008 and 2009 to a six-year low.

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