Growth of U.S. workforce belies naysayers

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The slow, steady pace of the recovery of the U.S. labor market after the Great Recession continued in December, despite dire warnings that congressional inaction on the fiscal cliff was keeping employers from hiring.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the nation added 155,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.8 percent in December from the November rate, which had originally been reported as 7.7 percent but was revised upward.

Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the report "provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression."

While the number of jobs added, which is based on a survey of employers, showed good growth, a separate survey of households showed that while the size of the labor force grew by 192,000 workers, most of that increase, 164,000, was in the number of people who reported they are unemployed and looking for work.

The uninspiring jobs report caused a tepid reaction on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 43.85 or 0.33 percent to close at 13,432.21; Standard & Poors 500 Index closed at 1,466.47, up 0.49 percent; and Nasdaq closed at 3,101.66, up 0.04 percent.

The good news to Arne Kalleberg wasn't just the jobs that were created, but also some of those that were lost. Mr. Kalleberg is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of "Good Jobs, Bad Jobs."

Manufacturing gained 25,000 jobs. Construction was up by 35,000 jobs and temporary help fell off by 600 jobs. To Mr. Kalleberg the loss of those temporary jobs means that companies are making the commitment to hire employees and in return have a workforce of people more committed to their jobs.

The 25,000 jobs added in manufacturing last month were part of a total of 180,000 jobs added in the sector over the year. That increase, Mr. Kalleberg said, signaled that the trend of moving manufacturing jobs overseas may be coming to an end. One of the bigger gains in manufacturing was making cars and trailers, which gained 4,800 jobs.

The low-skilled manufacturing jobs that paid well during the mid-20th century because of unions, are gone forever, Mr. Kalleberg said. But the jobs that are coming back still are highly skilled manufacturing jobs.

He said the boost in construction jobs also looked good, even factoring that some of that was created by Hurricane Sandy. While counting on hurricanes and floods to create jobs may not be a good economic plan, "those jobs are going to continue for a while because Sandy made quite a mess."

While construction and manufacturing are adding people, Jim John, chief operating officer for the career network Beyond.Com in King of Prussia, Montgomery County, listed the top five growth areas in the coming months as "health care, health care, health care, health care and [information technology]."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care industries added 44,500 jobs in December, including 6,800 in physicians' offices; 2,900 in outpatient care centers, such as physical therapy offices; and 5,400 in home health services.

Health care will only continue to grow as the nation ages, Mr. John said. Home health care is really growing, with demand for nurses, occupational therapists and physical therapists who will go to people's homes. There is also a demand for low-paid positions such as home health aides.

In information technology, Mr. John said they are seeing a demand for people who can work with health care technology, such as billing software.

Governments continued to cut back, shedding 13,000 jobs nationally with the biggest source of job losses in public schools, which cut 11,500 jobs in December.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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