Construction hiring rose in more than half of the country in March, according to the latest state employment figures from the Bureau of Labor statistics.
Nationally, 15,000 new construction jobs were added last month, the first net gain in the industry since June 2007.
Maryland led the country in construction and overall hiring last month. Overall, the state saw a net gain of nearly 36,000 new jobs, with nearly 15 percent of the new hires—or 5,200 jobs—in construction.
"It's too early to tell whether these numbers reflect the start of a positive trend, or the impact of a warm March following a snowy February," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.
The Mid-Atlantic was crippled by a series of snowstorms in February, and analysts caution some of the big job gains were seen in Pennsylvania and New York, states which each saw more than 4,000 new construction jobs.
In the states most heavily impacted by the housing collapse over the last two and a half years, there was a mixed picture in construction hiring. Florida was a standout, with a gain of 1,700 new construction jobs, even as overall hiring in the state fell by 4,000.
Nevada, meanwhile, continues to see construction employment declining, with 4,600 jobs lost in March. The state has posted gains in two of the last six months.
Still, Pimco Economist Tony Crescenzi said the latest homebuilding data convinces him we're seeing the beginning of stabilization in construction jobs. For the first time in two and a half years, housing completions are finally coming into line with new housing starts, making for steadier employment ahead, Crescenzi said.
Yet, stabilization in construction is not the same as a rebound.
"Even assuming the numbers are heading in the right direction, it is a long climb just to get back to normal for the construction industry," Simonson said.
Yet, the new normal in construction may be far below what we saw during the peak of the homebuilding boom in the last five years.
In California, which shed another 2,400 construction jobs March, construction employment stood at 550,000 last month. The National Association of Business Economics expects employment in the sector to rise 25 percent to 700,000 by 2015. That's roughly the level of construction employment in the state back in 2000, and about 30 percent below the its peak in 2006.
Government stimulus-driven projects should boost construction nationally in the months ahead, said Simonson, but it's not enough to make a dent in the more than 2 million construction jobs lost over the last two years.
"As much as the stimulus helps, until broader demand for construction expands, our industry will be lucky just to tread water," he said.