51,000 Construction Jobs Lost Last Month, Unemployment Hits 5.1 Percent

U.S. unemployment rose to 5.1 percent in March from 4.8 percent the previous month, with the loss of 80,000 jobs in March concentrated in construction, manufacturing, and employment services. Job growth continued in health care, food services, and mining, Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall reported this morning. He said manufacturing employment decreased by 48,000 in March, with motor vehicle manufacturing employment down by 24,000, a decline largely caused by a strike at an automotive parts maker. Other manufacturing job declines came in construction-related industries of wood products, furniture, and nonmetallic minerals, he said.

The report heightens fears of a U.S. recession because economists expected the March job decline would be only about 50,000. Construction economists agree there are some bright spots despite the slump in housing construction -- big commercial, education, and government projects such as power plants, hospitals, and university buildings. For example, Kiewit Corporation of Omaha announced March 31 that it had formed a new group, Kiewit Power, to enhance its offerings for that sector, and Shaw Group Inc. of Baton Rouge announced April 1 that the Nuclear Division of its Power Group and Westinghouse Electric Co. have agreed with South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. to finalize an engineering, procurement, and construction contract for up to two new nuclear plants at the existing V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, S.C.

"The future is bright in the power and energy markets for Kiewit," said spokesman Kent Grisham. "By bringing a 'one-stop-shop' concept to their integrated engineering, procurement, construction, and startup service needs, Kiewit is clearly committed to the success of our power customers." The company is building coal power plants in Nebraska, Missouri, and Illinois; and gas-fired power plants in Florida, California, and Ontario, Canada.

The nation's jobless rate was 4.4 percent in March 2007. In March 2008, the number of unemployed people nationwide rose by 434,000 to 7.8 million, BLS said today.

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