I have no idea how much credit President Trump deserves for the February U.S. jobs figures released last Friday that nearly everyone hailed as a strong performance. I feel somewhat more confident in noting that the results provided some preliminary indications – regardless of who or what deserves credit – that one of the most troubling features of the current employment recovery may have peaked.
Specifically, the February numbers show a reversal of the economy’s burgeoning reliance on what I call the subsidized private sector to generate employment gains, and a revival of the role played by the real private sector. That’s great news if these developments continue.
To summarize, the subsidized private sector consists of those American industries classified officially as private sector industries, but where levels of demand – and therefore employment – depend heavily on government subsidies. Healthcare services is the leading example. The real private sector is hardly devoid of government influence. But its levels of demand and employment are largely shaped by free market forces.
And since the real private sector leads the economy in innovation and productivity, signs that it’s regaining its relative job-creation chops deserve cheers.
I called the encouraging signs preliminary because they only cover the first two data months of this year. But they reveal that, in January and February, the subsidized private sector created only 17.55 percent of the 473,000 total net new jobs created by the economy. (Both numbers will be revised several times more.) That’s a much smaller share than the subsidized industries generated last January and February: 24.79 percent of the 363,000 net gain in employment.
The same conclusions flow from another set of data. During the first two data months of this year, the subsidized private sector accounted for 18.53 percent of the total employment improvement of the private sector as it’s conventional defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the first two months of last year, that figure was 27.19 percent.
At the same time, the subsidized industries clearly are still punching above their weight on the employment front. In 2013, their two-month share of all net new jobs was only 13.48 percent, and of conventionally defined private sector jobs, 13.59 percent.
Looking at the economy on a standstill basis also reveals the importance of subsidized private sector job-creation. When the last recession began, at the end of 2007, it represented 13.22 percent of all non-farm payrolls (the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U.S. jobs universe). When the current recovery began, in the middle of 2009, the subsidized private sector share had grown to 14.97 percent. And as of last month, despite the developments noted above, this percentage was up to 15.74 percent.
And this subsidized private sector growth has come in part at the expense of the real private sector. It’s share of total U.S. employment as of last month (68.94 percent) is still higher than at the recovery’s onset (67.80 percent). But it’s lower than its level at the onset of the last recession (70.62 percent).
Viewed from another perspective, when the current recovery began, as mentioned above, the subsidized private sector represented 14.97 percent of total American jobs. But since that time, it’s been responsible for 22.60 percent of total employment growth. The real private sector at the beginning of the current recovery accounted for 67.80 percent of total American jobs. And it’s share of subsequent employment growth has been higher, too (79.10 percent). But the gap between its share of employment and its role in employment growth is much lower than that of the subsidized industries.
Finally, the new jobs report contained some good news for fans of former President Obama. It revealed that from the start of the recovery that began a few months into his first term in office, through the end of his administration, hiring was slightly less subsidized private sector-heavy than originally reported.
There’s no doubt that two months’ worth of data per se hardly signal the dawn of a new, brighter era in American employment. At the same time, most trends don’t last forever. So in the months ahead, these subsidized private sector job trends will deserve more attention than ever. Indeed, they’ll be at least as important a yardstick for judging the Trump administration’s economic performance as the overall jobs totals.