Deteriorating demand for construction services continued to drag on the economy as new federal figures show another 53,000 construction workers lost their jobs in December 2009 and the industry’s unemployment rate climbed to 22.7 percent, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

“If it wasn’t for construction, our economic picture would actually be getting slightly better,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Unfortunately, construction layoffs are dragging down the broader employment picture.”

Simonson said that outside of construction, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 31,000, seasonally adjusted, in November, and shrank by 32,000 in December. Construction, however, lost 80,000 more jobs in both months, he said, while the industry’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, is now more than double the all-industry rate.

According to the new federal employment figures, more than 2 million construction workers are currently unemployed and 934,000 construction workers lost their jobs during the past 12 months alone. Simonson said that construction employment declined by 0.9 percent between November and December and 13.7 percent between December 2008 and 2009.

According to Simonson, falling demand for nonresidential construction in particular was driving the sector’s job losses, with 34,900 nonresidential jobs lost in December. He noted that federal figures indicated that construction spending declined by $137 billion between November 2008 and 2009 to a six-year low.