Mixed Blessing: Overall Employment Up, Tech Jobs Decline
It's the first U.S. jobs report for 2017, and the number of jobs added for January comes to 227,000, a marked improvement over December's revised but still lackluster 157,000 number.
With the monthly average for 2016 around 165,000, this is a nice start to a New Year that will hopefully bring some upward bounce to forthcoming employment tallies. More pleasingly, labor force participation is starting to increase as well, up by 0.2 percent to 62.9 percent overall.
Likewise, the total employment percentage is also creeping up and now stands at 59.9 percent. It's clearly not a cause for celebration, but it is cause to hope that the downward or flat trends for employment growth might be giving way to a reliable continuation of the modest growth that's characterized the labor market for the past 5 years or so.
Wage growth is also more or less flat, with a net $0.03 rise for January, half of December's gain, and pretty negligible. Going forward, an ever-better indicator than increased workforce participation would be some heftier overall wage gains.
Where employment gains occurred, however, is something of a mixed bag. Retail trade employment was up in January by 46,000, followed by construction at 36,000, and financial activities at 32,000. Alas, two of those three sectors are far from high-paying, and none of them are terribly secure from future cuts in the wake of economic reversals.
These are not necessarily the sectors where growth augurs well for a more robust future, but there you have it. Professional and technical services grew by 23,000 in January, with 13,000 of those jobs in computer systems design and related services (something of interest to those of us who work in IT).
Bigger gains occurred in food services and drinking places (another low wage sector) at 30,000, and in healthcare (a high wage, high value sector) at 18,000. Health care added an average of 29,000 jobs per month in 2016, so this is actually a slight dip for that sector, probably explained by reduced pace of hiring over the holiday season.
Interestingly, the numbers for the information sector in Table A-14 show a decline in employment. In January 2016, there were 129,000 unemployed to represent an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. For January 2017, those numbers were 137,000 and 4.9 percent, respectively.
Dividing the latter into the former produces the workforce size for the sector. For 2016, it's 2.98 million and for 2017, it's 2.8 million. Those numbers say that information has lost 182,000-plus jobs over the last 12 months, while unemployment has gone up by 0.3 percent.
This is not the direction in which we like things headed, but I'm scratching my head a bit at the presence of a downward trend for our home (IT) sector. It doesn't square so well with the reports of a people shortage to fill IT jobs, especially in high demand niches such as cloud computing, security, and big data, for example.
However you slice it, January's numbers offer a bit of fresh air, as compared to most of 2016. I'm sure somebody in Washington is going to feel good about this, and perhaps even personally responsible. Let's hope the big guy can keep those numbers going up for the rest of the year!