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Turning Back the Clock: May Job Numbers Look like 2007 and 1999

The words “pre-recessionary job market” is music to any American’s ears. If the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s latest Employment Situation Report is any indication, these times have arrived.


March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but May has proven to be an entirely different animal. Last month, the 217,000 new jobs in the United States essentially returned the national employment rate back to pre-recession conditions. Not only that, but it beat out the economists’ prediction of 215,000 new jobs.


Say what you will about the weather from February to May, but there’s no doubt that the economic forecast has been more or less sunny. For four consecutive months, non-farm payrolls rose more than 200,000 (historical perspective: The last time this four-month streak happened, it was during the year of Clinton’s impeachment trial).  Over the year, the unemployment rate has dropped 1.2 percentage points, or 1.9 million people respectively.


But before we party like it’s the year 2007, keep in mind that we’re not actually at our pre-recession heyday: Though 8.8 million new jobs were created in the past 4 years, the 6.3 percent unemployment rate hasn’t budged since April 2014. Also, there different nuances to the federal definition of workers: There are the “long-term unemployed” (which declined by 979,000), “discouraged workers” (the 697,000 who have given up job hunting), and of course the growing demographic of part-time workers who log in 20 hours or less per week due to both economic and non-economic reasons (such as family commitments, or employers skirting healthcare requirements).


7.3 million people were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Temporary Help

Services sector is chugging along an upward trajectory for the 16th month in a row. With corporate needs evolving, employers are now increasingly reaching out to temp agencies to meet staffing demands.


Like Hollywood movies, each sector tells its own unique story. Here’s a brief recap of how they fared in May:


Though the umbrella term “Professional and Business Services” may sound somewhat vague, this sector’s impact on the economy is crystal-clear: It added 55,000 new jobs in May. That includes personal finance advisors, accountants and auditors, and subsectors like computer systems design (which added 6,600 jobs).



Once again, the Healthcare industry does not fail to pack a powerhouse punch in whatever economy we seem to be in. And though this robust sector has always been a high performer, it set a personal record in May: It added twice its monthly average for the past twelve months. That’s 34,000 new jobs injected into the economy. Ambulatory services generated 23,100 jobs (6.6 million total workforce), nursing and residential care facilities grew 3,600 jobs (3.25 million total workforce) and hospitals tripled from last month, adding 6,900 jobs (4.8 million total workforce).




… goes to Social Services jobs, which beat out its 12-month average by threefold: Up to 21,000 new jobs from 7,000 new jobs. Never mind state and local budget constraints: Schools still need child counselors, hospitals still need need gerontological social workers, and – thanks to an emphasis on prevention versus prison – mental health and substance abuse social workers will grow by almost 20 percent over the 2008-18 decade.



What goes hand-in-hand with rising consumer confidence, more paychecks, more disposable income for vacations, and unwinding with a cold beer after a long day at work? The Leisure and Hospitality industry, of course. In May alone, this sector generated 39,000 new jobs. Perhaps the way into the economy’s heart really is through its stomach: Food and alcohol- related businesses gained 31,700 jobs. The downside to this, though, is that many hospitality-type jobs employ workers who are likely to be part of the lower-paid part-time contingent.



Hold your hard hats: Only 6,000 new Construction jobs hit the market last month. This is nearly a fifth of April’s new jobs. Heavy and civil engineering added 3,200 jobs, and so did residential building. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was a robust economy defined by commercial and residential real estate.



Is America still the country that builds things? It’s tough to say, with the statistics we have today: The U.S. has 1.6 million fewer Manufacturing jobs than when the recession began. This is the motley crew that is mostly an exception to the “college degree for high-paying jobs” rule. We’re talking welders, pipefitter, machinists, and electricians.


Things can be a little challenging in the private sector, but it’s even harder if you’re eyeing D.C. for a job with the Government: The number of federal jobs barely budged since April: 1,000 new jobs were added.

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