The unemployment rate increased from 5.7% to 6.1% in August, as job losses continue to mount in a weakened economy. Non-farm payrolls lost 84,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday morning.
While the national economy has been shedding jobs all year, the bulk of the losses have come in the last four months. In August alone, the number of unemployed persons rose by 592,000 up to a total of 9.4 million people counted as unemployed. Some sections of the economy, like mining and health care, added jobs during August. Over the last 12 months, the number of unemployed people has gone up 2.2 million and the unemployment rate has increase 1.4 percentage points.
Long-term unemployment, where people are jobless for 27 weeks or more, rose by 163,000 up to 1.8 million people in August. In the last 12 months, long-term unemployment has increased by 589,000 people.
Construction jobs, which have been particularly vulnerable in 2007 and 2008, fell 1.5% month-over-month in August and are down 7.6% year-over-year. August's figure is the smallest month-over-month decrease since June 2007.
But it is unlikely that smaller job losses means the construction industry is turning around. Residential construction employment has been and continues to be very weak.
Residential construction lost another 4.4% of its jobs in August and is 11.75% below August 2007 employment levels. Specialty residential trade contractors lost 14,200 jobs in August. Since a February 2006 peak, residential specialty trade contractors have lost 388,000 jobs.
So far, total construction jobs have declined 7% from this cycle's peak, compared with declines of 18%, 14%, and 16% for the previous three housing downturns, according to research by Zelman & Associates in Cleveland.
Zelman's research says construction payrolls could decline another 10%, resulting in a drag on the national economy of 720,000 more job losses, the equivalent of another 0.5% of the workforce.
The Employment Situation for September 2008 is scheduled to be released on Friday, October 3.
Ethan Butterfield is senior business editor at BUILDER magazine.