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(Washington) – Construction employment jumped by the largest monthly amount in nearly seven years in January, bringing industry employment to the highest level since July 2009, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America.

Construction employment totaled 5,922,000 in January, the highest total in 4-1/2 years and an increase of 48,000 from a month earlier—the largest one-month gain since April 2007, Simonson noted. For the year, construction employment rose by 179,000 or 3.1 percent, compared with an increase of 1.7 percent for total nonfarm payroll employment. Nonresidential construction firms added 31,300 new jobs in January and 57,100 (1.6 percent) over 12 months while residential firms added 16,800 jobs for the month and 121,400 (5.8 percent) over the year.

The unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 16.1 percent in January 2013 to 12.3 percent last month—the lowest January rate since 2008. The number of unemployed construction workers decreased from 1,322,000 in January 2012 to 1,045,000 last month. That drop of 277,000 exceeded the growth of construction employment by nearly 100,000, implying that many experienced former construction workers have left the industry in the past year, Simonson pointed out. He said the result is in line with an AGC survey last month that found many contractors report difficulty finding skilled workers.

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