The job market in miniature: AT&T's new hirings and new firings

On Tuesday, AT&T announced plans to hire roughly 3,000 new employees this year to help enhance its wireless and broadband networks. The news excited investors, leading the stock to a gain of six percent.

While this announcement was certainly a ray of light in an exceedingly dark job market, it is worth noting that AT&T's new positions don't offset the company's elimination of 12,000 jobs, which it began in December and will continue through 2009. In this, however, the communications company is more or less in line with current employment trends.

The job market seems to be in a cycle of one step forward/two steps back, in which every job surge is met by an equal or greater cut. While the economy scales down, workers are shifting from one sector to another, seemingly in search of a strong industry that can absorb the current wave of unemployment. However, as CNN Money recently noted, that industry simply doesn't exist. Moreover, if one counts the ranks of the underemployed, the job crisis reaches almost historic dimensions.

The census provides a good example of this problem. Although census wages start at $10 per hour, the program is already well ahead of its recruitment goals and seems overrun with applicants. Moreover, the quality of candidates is far superior to previous years, as former lawyers, financial-sector employees, and other professionals vie for the 3.8 million positions that will be available in 2009 and 2010.

Temp jobs, traditionally a soft landing place for the recently laid-off, have begun to feel the pinch. While some areas are experiencing a jump in temp positions, others are getting very thin. Even nursing, which has been long viewed as a recession-proof career, has experienced a steady decline over the past year. Some are arguing, in fact, that with the decline in elective surgery, the supposed nursing bubble is beginning to deflate. Given the fact that the gargantuan baby boomer generation is well on its way to dotage, the smart money says that, while a short-term decline seems likely, nursing should be a good bet for at least the next twenty years.

In fact, an argument could be made that, in their autumn years, the boomers may continue to stimulate the economy. Pharmacists, for example, are on the rise, as are home healthcare workers and nursing home employees.

Beyond that, the real boom seems to be in recession-retrenchment industries, like the federal government, some mortgage refinancers, discount retailers, and liquidation companies. However, in what may be a harbinger of bright things to come, the nuclear power industry is hiring engineers, presumably in advance of new construction. With any luck, the infrastructure building projects promised by President Obama will have a similarly stimulating effect upon the job market.
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