In a recession like this one, “not terrible” news qualifies as “good” news. That’s what happened today, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment numbers for April. Overall, the economy lost 539,000 jobs last month, but since that’s fewer job losses than many expected, a glimmer of hope escaped today from many experts.

“A 539,000 drop in payrolls would normally be considered as a horrendous decline,” noted Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. “But it's a huge improvement on the peak 741,000 decline that we saw in January and marks a shift in momentum. The labor market is still deteriorating – but the rate of decline is moderating.”

Of course, try to tell that to a builder. The construction industry lost 110,000 jobs last month, despite the stimulus package’s promise of shovel-ready projects and the work to go along with them. Residential building, a sub-sector of the construction industry, shrank by 12,600 positions to a total of 711,000 jobs in April.  Employment for residential specialty trade contractors also eroded by 39,500 jobs, falling to a workforce of 1.7 million.

Overall, manufacturing (149,000 jobs lost), construction, and the professional and business services (122,000 jobs lost) fared the worst in April in terms of a shrinking workforce. Other industries are not exactly picking up the slack; the nation’s unemployment rate increased to 8.9% as 13.7 million American workers find themselves unemployed.

Unfortunately, the layoffs aren't over yet.

“We expect job losses to continue throughout 2009, and the unemployment rate to peak at just above 10%. But the signals from initial unemployment insurance claims (declining) suggest that we can expect to see another clear deceleration in job losses in May,” Gault said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is getting brighter.”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.