After a Step or Two Backward, Employment Numbers Resume Forward March
Friday (June 4) was the first Friday of the month and with that day, as is nearly always the case, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published its Employment Situation Summary for May 2015. While the 280,000 jobs added in May still fall somewhat shy of the numbers economists would like to see to indicate vigorous growth — which is to say, 300,000 or better — the May numbers return a glimmer of sunshine to our picture for U.S. employment and economic expansion.
The overall unemployment rate is still at a fairly solid 5.5 percent, and the total official count of unemployed persons is likewise unaltered at 8.7 million. Those dismal March numbers also got kicked up a notch, and were revised from a niggling 85,000 to a somewhat less scary 119,000 (a revisionary bump of 34,000, or a whopping 40 percent!). As this graph of U.S. full-time employees from Statista.com shows, though employment is staying in a pretty narrow range over the past year (minimum = 118.84 million; maximum = 121.86 million), the recent trend is upward — an encouraging sign of an improving employment situation:
Monthly number of full-time employees in the United States from May 2014 to May 2015 (in millions, unadjusted) [Source: Statista.com 6/6/2015]
A quick look at Table A-14, Unemployed persons by industry and class of worker, shows that unemployment continues to drop for the Information sector (where most IT employees show up) and that things continue to boom in the Professional and Business Services sector (where the rest of IT workers are usually counted). The unemployment rate for Information is a minuscule 3.3 percent for May 2015, a full 2.2 points lower than this same time last year.
The overall size of the Information workforce, however, thus translates into 2.96 million for May 2014 (163K unemployed at 5.5 percent) and 2.72 million for May 2015 (90K unemployed at 3.3 percent). I remain puzzled by this indicator that the sector has dropped 240,000 jobs in the past year, when all the indicators and surveys point to something between flat and modest employment growth in IT here in the United States.
Go figure! Professional and Business Services has been something of a bright spot for some time now, and added 63,000 jobs in May and more than 10 times that much (671,000) over the past year. Maybe some IT workers are dropping out of the information count, and going contract or freelance, thereby moving to this other sector?
But with unemployment in Information below 4 percent and steadily dropping toward 3 percent, I have to believe that hiring in the sector is bound to increase, as employers find themselves forced to replace retiring baby boomers, and start kicking more junior employees up the technical and management ladders.
As always, there will be most room for job opportunities at the bottom of the pay and seniority scales, but that room is sure to increase given the nature of demographics alone. Even in a modest recovery situation, as ours has been since 2012 or thereabouts, attrition and slow growth will ultimately increase demand for IT workers.