Latest U.S. Jobs Report Indicates Waning IT Employment
The U.S.Department of Labor's November employment report is out, and I'm not all that surprised by what it's telling us. If September's numbers (originally reported at 137,000, then revised slightly upward to 145,000) defined what's "bad," then October's numbers defined what's "good" (271,000; revised upward to 298,000). Interestingly, November's numbers hit almost exactly in the middle of that range, and reflect what I believe will be a "new normal" for the next half-year, or perhaps longer.
The job market has grown steadily since the bottom fell out in 2008-2009, but the pace of that growth has been vexingly slow. This pattern appears likely to continue — likely from where I'm sitting, at least — for the foreseeable future. The 12-month sliding average for job growth (December 2014 through November 2015) comes out to 237,000. November's tally is a little bit lower, but still pretty much in line with that figure.
Economists like to see job growth numbers of 300,000 or better (which we ended up hitting, for all practical purposes, for October, after the upward revision just noted). That's a solid indicator of strong and healthy economic expansion. So far, 2015, like the run from 2010 to 2014, continues to drag about 20 percent below that mark — which is why I characterize the job market as stuck in slow growth mode.
That said, there were some interesting upticks in November 2015, including a jump in construction (46,000 jobs were added, markedly higher than the 12-month sliding average of 22,000). Professional and technical services added 28,000 jobs for November, which is just a little over the 25,000 12-month sliding average. Health care and food services also continue to add jobs, though at 24,000 jobs healthcare is 16,000 less than its 12-month sliding average. Food services is right on target with 32,000 jobs added and a just-under-30,000 12-month sliding average.
As you'd expect with the holiday shopping season now underway in earnest, retail took a jump, too (31,000 jobs added against a 24,000 12-month sliding average). Down sectors include mining (down by 10,000 jobs monthly on the twelve-month sliding average) plus our own home sector of information, which lost 12,000 jobs in November, and has remained pretty much flat for the entire preceding 12 months. Other sectors, including manufacturing, wholesale, transportation and warehousing, financial services, and government, continue to be flat as well.
A look at Table A-14, Unemployed Persons by Industry or Class of Worker, also shows a shrinking workforce in the information sector. Dividing the number of unemployed by the percentage of the total workforce represented thereby permits me to calculate the size of the workforce at the time of reporting. That news is a little grimmer than I expected: By this reckoning, the size of the information sector in November 2014 was 2.84 million; for November 2015, it was 2.58 million.
Overall, that represents a reduction in workforce size of 260,000. This does not equate to a loss of that many jobs, but it does indicate on ongoing trend that the number of workers in the sector continues to decline. In the face of many widely-reported clamorings about a lack of qualified IT workers and a plethora of open positions that employers at least say they're unable to fill, this has me scratching my head somewhat. I do believe that, should the economy heat back up again — if and when job growth figures start closing in on the magic 300,000 monthly figure so beloved of economists — employment in the information sector cannot help but rise with that tide.
In the meantime, my longtime mantra for information workers, "Don't panic. Be calm. Stay put," continues to be as applicable as we contemplate flipping the calendar over for 2016 as it was in 2010 when I first started to declaim in such fashion. Painfully slow but steady growth appears to be our lot. That doesn't seem likely to change any time real soon, but IT skills will only gain in value as technology evolves. Keep the faith, and happy holidays!