Employment by sector Behind the Numbers, February 2014

Economies rarely look the same after a recession. So where are the jobs being created?


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As the US economy continues to work its way through the aftermath of the Great Recession, the focus remains on job creation. Four-and-a-half years later, overall employment is still 851,000 below its prerecession peak. However, the jobs picture is anything but monochromatic; even as some sectors remain far below their prerecession employment levels, other sectors are experiencing strong job growth. The differing employment situations are, in large part, due to the resumption of long-term trends that were in place prior to the recession. A comparison of prerecession employment levels and current employment numbers provides insight into where job creation can be expected.

As shown in table 1, health and social services, leisure and hospitality, and business and professional services are the three sectors where employment increased the most from prerecession levels while also expanding their share of total employment. Together, these sectors have increased employment by more than 4 million since the December 2007 start of the recession. Each of these sectors was on an upward trajectory before the recession and should continue to produce higher-than-average employment gains.

  • An aging US population will likely beckon faster-than-average employment growth in the health and social services sectors.
  • A growing retiree population, rising tourism, and changing lifestyles (fewer home-cooked meals, for example) suggest that employment growth will remain strong in the leisure and hospitality sectors.
  • Business and professional services employment should also enjoy faster-than-average growth as other industries continue to limit their own employment growth by contracting noncore services to outside experts.

Other notable employment gainers include private education services, which continued an upward trend that started before the recession, and mining, which is enjoying the fruits of growing energy production.

The manufacturing and construction sectors have experienced the greatest employment losses since December 2007, but their prognoses are different.

  • As firms increasingly view the United States as a cost-effective place to operate, manufacturing output will continue to rebound, but it will not be a major driver of employment growth because productivity continues to improve.
  • The outlook for construction is different. Although it is unlikely (and even undesirable) for employment in construction to return to its prerecession level, as the overall employment situation continues to improve, the construction sector stands to benefit from considerable pent-up demand. The US population has been growing more rapidly than housing units throughout the downturn, and at some point, supply will need to catch up.

Government is another sector where employment remains substantially lower than its prerecession levels. Employment at the federal, state, and local levels are all lower, but the local level, which accounts for 64 percent of government employment, has suffered 79 percent of the job losses.

While they have not reached their December 2007 levels, wholesale trade, retail trade, and transportation and warehousing are all on an upward trajectory. Employment in the utilities sector has been flat over the last three years, and absent a major federal infrastructure initiative, it will likely remain so. Information and financial service employment will continue to be limited by productivity improvements and consolidation.

Table 1: Employment by sector

  Dec-07 Jan-14 Change   Dec-07 Jan-14 Percentage point change
In thousands   % of total nonfarm employment  
Nonfarm 138,350 137,499 −851        
Private 115,974 115,686 −288        
Mining and logging 740 890 150 Mining and logging 0.5% 0.6% 0.1%
Construction 7,490 5,922 −1,568 Construction 5.4% 4.3% −1.1%
Manufacturing 13,746 12,075 −1,671 Manufacturing 9.9% 8.8% −1.2%
Wholesale trade 6,038 5,810 −228 Wholesale trade 4.4% 4.2% −0.1%
Retail 15,571 15,260 −311 Retail 11.3% 11.1% −0.2%
Transportation and warehousing 4,548 4,563 15 Transportation and warehousing 3.3% 3.3% 0.0%
Utilities 557 550 −8 Utilities 0.4% 0.4% 0.0%
Information 3,024 2,679 −345 Information 2.2% 1.9% −0.2%
Financial 8,281 7,900 −381 Financial 6.0% 5.7% −0.2%
Professional and business services 18,051 18,866 815 Professional and business services 13.0% 13.7% 0.7%
Education services 2,976 3,351 374 Education services 2.2% 2.4% 0.3%
Health and social services 15,578 17,877 2,299 Health and social services 11.3% 13.0% 1.7%
Leisure and hospitality 13,550 14,461 911 Leisure and hospitality 9.8% 10.5% 0.7%
Other services 5,516 5,484 −32 Other services 4.0% 4.0% 0.0%
Government 22,376 21,813 −563 Government 16.2% 15.9% −0.3%