Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost
If you're a physical therapist or a medical technician, your job prospects are brilliant. If you're a carpenter or an electrician, you may be pounding the pavement in vain.
The headline number is cause for celebration: America has regained all of the jobs lost in the recession, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department. It's true, as a raw statistic. But they are not necessarily the same jobs in the same industries, and they may not be in the same places.
In fact, your view of the economy and its health depends on where you're standing.
A look behind the latest government numbers on unemployment shows dramatic shifts in the overall economy, with some industries and professions waning and others gaining.
The recession didn't cause most of these changes, but it accelerated the pace of them. The overall jobs picture is now radically different from what it was in 2008, when the "Great Recession" began.
First, the numbers: The U.S. economy overall has gained 8.7 million jobs since the recession ended in 2010. That's about the number it lost during the downturn that began in 2008.
Reaching that milestone required a last-minute burst of energy in May, when 217,000 new jobs were added, according to government figures released Friday. The unemployment rate stands at 6.3%.
There's another upbeat headline in this story: More Americans are working now than ever before. The consensus among economists is that we have entered a period of economic growth that will accelerate through this quarter, and possibly beyond it.
The overall number of people with jobs stands at 138.4 million, a bit over the total before the recession began. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the number should be higher by about seven million in order to take into account growth in the number of Americans of working age.
Many Americans are no doubt wondering where all these jobs are. Here's a look at some of the winners and losers of this post-recession period:
Health care workers:
The biggest industry category of all, in terms of sheer growth. Moreover, these are good-paying jobs for people with the right skills. The aging of the baby-boom generation, and the implementation of Obamacare, have created opportunities across the board in medical offices, outpatient clinics, test laboratories, hospitals and nursing homes.
The rapid expansion of the web has created opportunities for people with new media skills and multi-media talent, from writing and design to sound editing, programming and engineering. The problem is, the Internet hasn't created nearly as many jobs as it displaced. Daily newspapers, magazines, bookstores, newsstands and printers all shrank or disappeared as the 'net grew.
Professional and Office Workers
Some skills translate across industries. As the economy has improved, so have opportunities for white-collar workers like accountants and clerical workers. The category of professional and business services was the single biggest growth area in May, up 55,000 jobs.
There are 1.49 million fewer jobs for people with construction-related skills than there were before the recession started. Any turnaround in the near future may be seen only in the fastest-growing metropolitan regions.
The U.S. was losing manufacturing jobs long before the recession. But the trend only accelerated as robotics and other high-tech processes steadily replaced humans on factory floors. There is a bright spot in products that America excels in making for export: aerospace, medical equipment and other high-technology products.
Fully one-third of the jobs created since the end of the recession are on the low end of the pay scale. Yes, this category is technically a "winner," but the boom in jobs in fast-food restaurants, nail salons, retail stores and home health care services is a mixed blessing for those who hold them.
Low pay, few benefits, uncertain hours: This is a big factor in the new jobs "boom," and it shows why raw numbers don't tell the whole story.