If you’re a real data geek, you’re giddy over the prospect of a new year not just (or even mainly!) because great parties or possibly new beginnings are on the way. You’re (maybe mainly!) giddy because you’ll soon be getting full-year economic statistics!
This morning, as reported in this morning’s post, we got a big batch – from the Labor Department in the form of its release on the American employment scene for December. The numbers will be revised at least twice more, but they’re a decent marker, and certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of at least one important development I’ve been following – the burgeoning importance of job-creation in parts of the economy that are commonly defined as “private sector,” but that depend heavily on government spending.
As I’ve written repeatedly, drawing this distinction isn’t important because government spending is either good or bad. It’s important because in terms of generating sustainable prosperity, innovation and productivity growth are crucial. The lion’s share of both still comes from the private sector, and ultimately from the market forces that in turn overwhelmingly shape it. If ever more hiring is taking place in parts of the economy (notably healthcare services) reliant on the budgetary decisions of relatively un-innovative, un-productive politicians, America’s economic prospects could be dimmer than widely thought. And that’s precisely one of the main messages being sent by the new jobs report and the January-December figures.
For the record, Labor Department preliminarily estimated that 59,000 net new jobs were created in this subsidized private sector in December. That’s a little over a fifth of all the hiring gains on month attributed to the entire non-farm sector (Labor’s American employment universe), and a slightly larger percentage of increased employment in the private sector as conventionally defined.
But much more revealing are the full-year 2015 numbers and how they compare with those of other recent years. From last January through December, non-farm jobs on net rose by 2.650 million, and employment in the conventional private sector rose by 2.551 million. (Government hiring accounted for the rest.) The subsidized private sector gained 655,000 net new jobs – 24.72 percent of the total new jobs and 25.68 percent of the conventional private sector jobs.
It’s clear that something special is going on in the subsidized private sector just from looking at its share of employment on a stand-still basis. As of December, it accounted for 15.62 percent of all non-farm jobs and 18.45 percent of all conventional private sector jobs – considerably lower than its share of employment gains.
And indeed, the subsidized private sector’s role in total hiring has grown dramatically. In 2014, it generated 15.66 percent of the increase in non-farm employment and 16.04 percent of the improvement in conventionally defined private sector employment. In 2013, those figures were just 13.57 percent and 13.21 percent, respectively. In other words, in terms of total employment advances, the subsidized private sector’s role has jumped by 82.17 percent, and in terms of conventional private sector job-creation, it’s up by 94.40 percent – a near doubling.
As a result, job-creation in that part of the private sector that doesn’t benefit from major government largesse hasn’t been firing on nearly as many cylinders are often portrayed. Rather than creating 96.26 percent of all of 2015’s net new jobs, it was only responsible for 71.55 percent. Moreover, the gap has been widening. In 2014, the “real” private sector accounted for 81.96 percent of overall employment, not the 97.63 percent indicated by the standard classification. In 2013, the Labor Department actually reported that private sector job creation exceeded total job creation because government employment shrank. But more accurately defined, the private sector’s share of new jobs was just 89.11 percent.
And the farther back you go, the more impressive the subsidized private sector’s employment performance looks and the less impressive its market-driven counterpart appears. Since the recovery technically began, in mid-2009, the total non-farm economy has created 12.298 million jobs. If the private sector is conventionally defined, it’s accounted for even more net new jobs: 12.873 million. But strip out the 2.836 million private sector jobs in subsidized industries, and that number falls to 10.037 million – or 81.61 percent of total hiring.
Another way to look at the situation: During the recovery, total non-farm employment is up by 9.39 percent and private sector jobs conventionally defined have grown by 11.88 percent. But without the subsidized private sector’s jobs boom, the private sector increase falls to 11.30 percent. The growth rate of subsidized private sector jobs? Much faster, at 14.52 percent.
And here’s how all these new subsidized private sector jobs have changed the U.S. employment landscape. At the start of the last recession, in December, 2007, this portion of the economy accounted for 13.63 percent of all American non-farm jobs. By the time the recovery began, in June, 2009, its employment share was up to 14.92 percent. And last month, it hit that aforementioned 15.62 percent level.
Conversely, the real private sector stood at 70.19 percent of the non-farm workforce when the recession struck. It share fell to 67.84 percent by the time the recovery began eighteen months later, and at the end of last year, had recovered to only 69.02 percent – below pre-recession levels.
In fact, however, the subsidized private sector’s share of the American employment is surely greater than indicated above. For shouldn’t we include all the employees of the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries? Along with defense manufacturers? Data for the former aren’t hard to track down but figures for the latter can be pretty elusive – and aren’t officially kept by Washington.
For all the problems associated with a public sector-dominated employment scene, it’s surely better for Americans who can work to hold some kind of job than none. But just as subsidized economic growth is no substitute for the real thing, subsidized employment looks like a poor candidate for delivering the living standards and healthy economy the nation still so urgently needs.