Friday, March 06, 2015

Jobs report: A forest of unicorns

"The Unicorn in Captivity," tapestry circa 1500 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The economy's rebuilding, but without a blueprint. Today's drop in unemployment comes with unexpected growth in payrolls: 295,000 last month, 239,000 in January and 329,000 in December. But that hasn't given much relief to underemployed or longtime jobless workers.

Hiring managers now talk about hunting unicorns without irony: To navigate changing terrain, they seek rarities with creative and technical abilities. Yet they're reluctant to scout in a forest of unicorns: career changers with relatable skills and new ideas.

Let's go hunting: Not much separates the winners and losers in job creation:

Net job gainsNet job losses
Online and specialty storesElectronics and department stores
Car dealersAppliance dealers
Home contractorsHome builders
InsuranceCommercial banking

Unemployment by occupation (in thousands)

Unemployment has backed down steadily from 2010 highs across most categories, yet nearly every occupation still has more people looking for work than a decade ago. The rate among construction workers shot up to 21.3 percent, as oil and gas companies abandon suddenly unprofitable rigs. In a service economy, nearly 2 million unemployed workers come from service fields, with some of the highest unemployment in leisure and hospitality.

Employment by age (in thousands)

The workforce is graying. Teenage unemployment is falling, but it's the highest of any age group. The steady increase in new jobs has relatively few opening up for workers in their teens and twenties. Even as companies use early retirement to trim their work ranks, jobs for people 55 and older hold near a record high.

Average hourly earnings barely changed. And there's no letup in part-time hiring. A quarter of all workers are part-timers, many not by choice. A steady 4.9 percent hold multiple jobs. The 5.5 percent unemployment rate doubles doubles when adding people who look for work off and on, or who settle for part-time jobs. We're all doing what we can, yet we're not doing all we're capable of.

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