Construction employment increased in 136 out of 337 metropolitan areas between July 2010 and July 2011, declined in 148 areas, and stayed level in 53, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released recently by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Arlington, Va. Association officials noted that the local employment data remains mostly stagnant amid declines in publicly-funded construction activity.

“Even as we are beginning to experience a modest increase in private sector construction activity, public construction budgets are contracting,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The big worry for construction workers is that private demand will again slip while governments continue to cut back on infrastructure investments.”

The Chicago area added more construction jobs (12,900 jobs, 11%) than any other metro area during the past year while Lake County-Kenosha County, Ill.-Wis., added the highest percentage (23%, 2,900 jobs). Other areas adding a large number of jobs included the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, area (7,200 jobs, 4%); Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif., (3,800 jobs, 6%); the Detroit-Dearborn-Livonia, Mich., area (3,700 jobs, 20%) and Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (3,300 jobs, 3%).

The largest job losses were in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga., area (-8,300 jobs, -9%); followed by New York (-6,600 jobs, -6%); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., (-5,500 jobs, -5%); Los Vegas-Paradise, N.V., (-5,400 jobs, -12%) and Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colo., (-4,700 jobs, -6%). Both Lewiston, Idaho, (-18%, -200 jobs) and Panama City-Lynn Haven-Panama City Beach, Fla., (-18%, -900 jobs) lost the highest percentage. Other areas experiencing large percentage declines in construction employment included Redding, Calif., (-17%, -500 jobs) and Wilmington, N.C. (-16%, -1,500 jobs).

Association officials said they were concerned that federal, state, and local policy makers were too focused on cutting construction budgets instead of tackling many of their more pressing fiscal challenges. They noted that cutting construction budgets doesn't address out of control entitlement and pension obligations, and only shifts costs down the road as taxpayers will be forced to pay to fix broken structures and repair decayed infrastructure.

"Countries don't rebuild their economies by neglecting the very infrastructure businesses rely upon to succeed,” said the association’s CEO Stephen E. Sandherr.