The construction industry lost 13,000 jobs between January and February, but continued a series of year-over-year job increases, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said that short-term factors such as weather contributed to the monthly loss even as longer-term trends are becoming a bit more positive.

“Since many firms were able to either get an early start, or a late finish, to construction activity in December and January because of mild conditions, this month's job decline is probably more of a seasonal correction than the start of a new trend,” said Ken Simonson, the AGC’s chief economist. “Given that the industry added over 47,000 jobs in the previous two months, the overall trend line is actually more positive than the monthly figures would indicate.”

Total construction employment now stands at 5.5 million or 65,000 higher than in February 2011. Simonson noted that February was the sixth consecutive month that construction employment had risen from the same month a year before. Meanwhile, the construction unemployment rate in February was 17.1 percent, double the national unemployment rate, the economist added.

Compared to the 2.2 million jobs lost in construction since early 2006, Simonson said the recent improvements are "lamentably small." He added that having a half-year of steady improvement shows that “the worst has passed.”

The association reported that residential specialty trade contractors employment grew by 1.6 percent from February 2011 to last month. Nonresidential building construction increased by 2.3 percent, while employment among heavy and civil engineering construction rose by 1.6 percent. Residential building grew by 1.3 percent and nonresidential specialty trade contractors by 0.3 percent.

AGC officials said the pickup in construction jobs was based largely on recent increases in private sector construction activity. But they cautioned that the positive trend could be undermined by continued political inaction on long-term infrastructure programs, proposed cuts to federal building and waterways construction programs, and Washington's inability to set long-term tax rates.

"Even as the nation's hardest hit employment sector is finally showing some signs of life, events in Washington are threatening to undermine the industry's recovery,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Instead of enacting measures that would help construction employers, Washington is offering infrastructure funding and tax uncertainty, new regulations and significant cuts to federal building programs.”