|WACO, April 17 - March total U.S. employment stood at 137.9 million employed, almost back to where we were in January 2008 (138.4 million).
We have been adding jobs, but at a frustratingly slow overall pace. This week, I took a look at what industries are helping with the recovery and which are hindering it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains monthly data on employment by industry. I looked at three points in time. First, January 2008, which is when U.S. employment hit its highest level prior to the recession. Second, February 2010, when the national economy hit bottom in term of jobs. And third, the most recent data (March 2014).
Many industries have reached the prior peak jobs level and have now surpassed it. In particular, services industries are back. Health care and social services are a major part of this growth, with employment now about 2.0 million higher than it was before the recession. Professional and business services have also seen notable gains, with almost a million more people working in those industries than in January 2008. Leisure and hospitality are also about a million higher.
These industries have been instrumental in pulling us out of the trough, though the pattern is somewhat different. Since February 2010, the largest gains have come from professional and business services (up nearly 2.5 million jobs), with leisure and hospitality up 1.7 million and health care up 1.3 million. Another industry which has helped turn things around is trade, transportation, and utilities (with an addition of almost 1.6 million since the trough).
Looking at the industries at the other end of the spectrum, more than three million jobs in goods-producing sectors have disappeared. Manufacturing is still more than 1.6 million lower than before, with about 1.1 million of those job losses coming from durable goods manufacturing. Construction employment is more than 1.5 million (over 20 percent) lower than in January 2008, though there was a substantial degree of overheating in that industry leading up to the downturn. The public sector is another notable loser, down 547,000 from what it was before the recession. This situation is quite unusual, as it indicates that government policy was on balance contractionary during a very difficult period. The number of jobs in financial activities and information remain well below the prior levels.
Some sectors have continued to shed jobs even from where they stood when the overall economy hit bottom, most notably government at all levels (federal, state, and local). The information and utilities segments are also down since the trough. Federal government employment has declined by more than 5.8 percent since February 2010, with budget cuts stemming from sequestration leading to the elimination of thousands of jobs. Although long-term budget reform is essential, this pattern during a major contraction speaks volumes about the dysfunction that is paralyzing fiscal policy.
In Texas, the timing of the peak and trough was a little different—we entered the recession later and exited it sooner—but the industry patterns are similar. Manufacturing and construction sector employment are still well below their levels from August 2008, just before Texas entered the recession. Jobs in the information sector are also fewer. However, gains in sectors such as education and health services, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and others more than tilt the scales. Texas has gained almost 768,000 jobs over the prior peak, with nearly 1.2 million added since the Texas low point in December 2009.
On a percentage basis, the biggest job gains in Texas are within mining and logging sector (up 28.6 percent from where it stood in August 2008). This is no surprise given the oil surge, yet the industry remains relatively small in terms of total employment when compared to the overall economy. In fact, that 28.6 percent growth translates to an addition of fewer than 67,000 jobs. (These are very good jobs, for the most part, and the industry certainly generates a high level of direct and spinoff business activity with relatively few employees.)
Looking ahead, new public-sector jobs are likely to remain relatively scarce. It may also take a while for construction employment to get back where it was more than six years ago. However, there is evidence that we may begin to see gains in some types of manufacturing jobs, with companies moving operations back to the United States as cost advantages of fabricating products in other nations shrink and quality issues begin to surface. In Texas, industries are hiring across a broad spectrum, keeping the Lone Star State’s job recovery far ahead of the nation as a whole.
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.