One of the biggest lessons taught by yesterday’s September U.S. employment report is that if you want evidence that the current jobs rebound contains too many lousy jobs, don’t look mainly at the numbers in retail, or leisure and hospitality.
Both of those sectors still pay poorly, and are full of positions with few or no benefits – when the jobs are even full-time or permanent in the first place. And of course retail and leisure/hospitality are highly visible to all of us – or at least all of us who shop, go to restaurants, or stay at hotels.
But as the September jobs figures revealed yet again, their prominence in the recovery has been dwarfed by the abstract-sounding administrative and support services sector.
Part of the reason for this category’s neglect is the tendency of its jobs to stay in the background. They’re non-management positions in offices, like secretaries and personal assistants and receptionists and mail clerks, and especially in job placement and temporary help companies. Another part of the reason is that these jobs are lumped into a super-category called “professional and business services” that also includes lawyers and management consultants and architects and computer systems designers and info-tech consultants and other unquestionably good jobs.
So when most analysts looked at the September jobs figures, they saw that the professional and business services category created 81,000 of the 248,000 net new positions generated by the economy, and no doubt felt pretty encouraged. The problem is that 58,900 of these new professional and business service jobs were administrative and support jobs, and their outsized growth has been a major feature of the employment scene since its recession bottom in February, 2010.
That dreary month, administrative and support services jobs represented 12.77 percent of all U.S. non-farm jobs (the U.S. employment universe according to the U.S. Labor Department, which compiles and published the jobs data). As of last month, this share had risen to 13.92 percent. In other words, the administrative and support services sector generated fully 29.26 percent of the total jobs created in America since the jobs low point.
Unfortunately, though, whereas the typical private sector U.S. wage last month was $10.22 per hour adjusted for inflation, the typical real wage in administrative and support services was only $7.69.
That’s just slightly higher than inflation-adjusted pay in retail and in leisure and hospitality jobs — $7.13 and $5.79 per hour, respectively. And as shares of total employment, changes in these categories have been smaller, at best, than that of administrative and support services. Since February 2010, the retail share has actually dipped by .05 percentage points, from 11.10 percent to 11.05 percent, and the leisure and hospitality share has increased from 9.97 percent to 10.53 percent.
As a result, retail and leisure have accounted for only 10.39 percent and 17.93 percent of American jobs created since the bottom – considerably lower than the nearly 30 percent administrative and support share.
So if you want to understand fully the realities of low-wage America, think less of WalMart greeters or even the fast-food workers and hotel employees whose minimum wage campaigns have made so much news recently. Think more about the typical office worker – especially in employment firms focused on finding other low-quality jobs for their countrymen and women.