Employment and Wage Trends

Unemployment is very high but currently dropping, length of time unemployed is very high and still growing, and real wages that were flat for decades are now dropping.

Unemployment is below the peaks in Oct ’09, May ’75 and Dec ’82 but still higher than previous peaks in the last 60+ years.  Average weeks unemployed is uniquely high in that time-frame and still increasing although at a lower rate of growth.

Real wages for production and non-supervisory workers were flat for the last 60+ years.  Many would argue inflation was substantially higher but even using the gov’t measure shows real wages peaking almost forty years ago in Jan ’73 and currently dropping.

The next chart shows the unprecedentedly severe recent drop in private sector jobs that currently account for 83% of all non-farm jobs, not far from the 70+ year average.  The other 17% of jobs are in federal, state and local gov’t.

Almost 70% of private sector employment is now in service jobs.  The abnormal low  was 41% during ww2.  It has climbed pretty steadily ever since from around 48% after the war.

Although there were severe cuts in overall service jobs in 2009, jobs in education and health services continued to grow from 4% at the end of WW2 to 15% now.  Both the total number of jobs and their % of the total continues to increase.

The great decline has been in manufacturing from an abnormal high of 39% in WW2 and around 33% after the war,  dropping steadily to 9% today.  Total manufacturing jobs arced in the 12M to 19M range in that time.  It is now just under 12M with a small recent increase.

Construction jobs were a relatively steady 5% of the total.  The number of  jobs grew along with the population then plunged after the 2006 bursting of the real estate bubble.

The total number of government jobs has grown steadily but is now dropping.  Gov’t jobs as a % of the total grew from around 13% to around 19% after WW2 until ’75.  It  fluctuated along a downward slope since then and is now 17% and dropping.

The Federal government payroll has been around 2.5M to 3M with high blips at census time and dropped steadily from 5% to 2% of total nonfarm employment.

State gov’t jobs grew steadily from one to five million, growing between ’55 and ’75 from 2.3% to just over 4% of total employment and held relatively steady around 4% since then.  The total number of state gov’t jobs and their % of all jobs is now dropping.

The trajectory for local gov’t was similar but with a more pronounced downturn starting in 2009.

What these numbers show is the impact of jobs becoming tradable and/or automated.  Manufacturing jobs formerly done in the US are now done overseas or by robots.  Education and health care jobs done locally and by humans are still growing but the quest for higher quality and lower cost will automate and off-shore many of them, too.   That suggests the number of jobs relative to our population and wages for those jobs will continue to drop.  That would be a systemic problem.

We also see construction jobs, which are mostly non-tradable, devastated by the housing bubble and non-tradable state and local government jobs eliminated by the economic collapse it triggered.  That looks like an even bigger problem.  If we figure out how to generate enough jobs we’ll still need to know how not to keep having economic collapses.

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