Although today’s government statistics on turnover among American workers lag reality by two months, they’re still worth looking at because they fill in more crucial details about the state of the U.S. employment scene as the Obama years draw to a close, and how it’s changed. And the main message sent by these so-called JOLTS numbers? Despite some very recent improvement, the country’s job market still features historically high levels of (a) private sector jobs and job openings that shouldn’t really be described as private sector, and (b) jobs in low-wage parts of the economy.
According to these new figures from Labor Department, American employers said their companies had openings for 5.522 million workers in November. (These numbers are still preliminary.) Of these, fully 20.28 percent could be found in what I call the economy’s subsidized private sector – industries where levels of activity, and therefore employment, depend heavily on government funding. (Health-care services is the leading example.) Openings in the “real” private sector – where activity is driven largely by market forces, and therefore more accurately reflects the economy’s underlying strengths or weaknesses, amounted to 69.76 percent of the total.
These results are better than those for November, 2015. A statistical year ago, that subsidized private sector comprised 21.41 percent of 5.198 million total reported job openings. And only 69.49 percent of such opportunities were reported for the real private sector. Moreover, these improvements have slowly been emerging over the last year.
The nation has also seen progress on this front going back to the start of the current economic recovery, in mid-2009. That June, subsidized private sector job openings stood at 22.28 percent of all reported openings, and their real private sector counterparts came in at just 64.25 percent.
Yet it’s also clear that the American job market hasn’t returned to normal levels – at least if “normal” is defined as its state on the eve of the Great Recession, at the end of 2007. Back then, the subsidized private sector generated only 18.31 percent of all reported job openings, and the real private sector’s share was 71.74 percent.
Somewhat more discouraging trends can be seen in the economy’s low-wage sectors – notably retail; leisure and hospitality; and the poorly paying portions of the overall high-wage professional and business services sector. (My figures for the latter are extrapolations based on their share of actual professional and business services employment, because they’re not explicitly reported in the JOLTS statistics.)
Job openings in these low-wage industries represented 32.58 percent of all openings in November, the Labor Department reported this morning. As with subsidized private sector openings, this share has been slowly trending down in recent months, and certainly from November, 2015 levels (33.49 percent).
But when the current economic recovery began, in mid-2009, the low-wage sectors produced only 28.38 percent of all job openings. And when the last recession began, in late 2007, their share was 31.94 percent – still smaller the most recent results.
It’s now more than seven years since this recovery began. Will a President Trump be able to give it the jolt it needs and that so many American voters clearly want? Keep watching the JOLTS reports for valuable insights into the emerging answer.