Last Friday, when the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics released its final employment report of 2013, we reported (along with everyone else) how abysmal it was. A mere 74,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in December (on a seasonally adjusted basis, of course), which was a far cry from the 200,000 or so that most economists were expecting and the 238,000 jobs that private payroll company ADP and Moody's Analytics reported a couple of days before.

It was the worst month of the entire year for the BLS's employment reports. See here:

The construction sector had an equally ugly month in December, losing 16,000 jobs. This followed the third best month of the year in November (with 19,000 jobs added in construction), and the fourth best month of the year in September (with 17,000 jobs added). See the chart at the top of this page for the total construction job gains and losses for 2013.

The December data reported by the BLS was preliminary, and thus not set in concrete in the way that data from months past have by now been resolved by subsequent reports, so there could be an upward revision in coming months. But we might not want to hold our breath. Looking at the job gains and losses for 2013, we see pretty wild swings from good at the beginning of the year, to an abysmal summer, to some signs of life in the fall. December's job loss number was only extraordinary in its sheer size, not in that there were losses.

So these shaky results were pretty common for the sector overall last year, and that shakiness was mirrored by both job gains in nonresidential construction, a sum of two sectors each—the jobs added in the construction of buildings and those of contractors. Nonresidential construction only added 21,600 jobs for the entire year:

We calculate the above chart as a sum of jobs gained and lost from two segments of the BLS's report: nonresidential building construction and nonresidential specialty trade contractors.

Heavy and civil engineering added a mere 500 jobs net for the entire year:

Residential construction, however, was a bright spot and a beacon of stability in an otherwise unsteady sector, adding 99,800 jobs in 2013. You might have heard at some point that the housing market started to come back this past year. These numbers support that assertion.

We calculate the above chart as a sum of jobs gained and lost from two segments of the BLS's report: residential building construction and residential specialty trade contractors.

Residential construction added jobs every month, three months added more than 10,000 new jobs in each of those months. And these gains were pretty consistent, with the sector not following the highs and lows of the construction industry as a whole.