Posted by: Dan Beucke on January 6, 2012 at 12:45 PM
The jobs pictured brightened considerably at the end of 2011 — and if you were in mining and oil, it’s positively booming. This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows total U.S. job growth of 200,000 in December, 1.6 million for 2011, and a December unemployment rate of 8.5 percent — the lowest since a month after Barack Obama took office in January 2009. The report is being described as “robust,” indicating the economy “gained momentum” heading into the new year. Let’s break down the many plusses and a few important minuses.
- Hours and pay: The average work week rose 0.1 hour from November, to 34.4 hours. Private workers earned an average $23.24 per hour, up 0.2 percent from November and 2 percent from a year earlier. The highest paid workers, on an hourly basis, were in utilities ($33.71), information ($31.77), mining (see below), and finance ($28.16). Lowest paid: leisure and hospitality ($13.31) and retail ($15.97).
- Mining and oil workers: You may have heard there’s an extraction boom underway in America. Mining jobs shot up by 89,300 or 13 percent year over year, to 776,000. The average hourly wages of miners and loggers ($28.62, up 3.7 percent) and their work week (47.3 hours, up 2.4 percent) were near the top of all occupations. Oil employment jumped 16 percent year over year, to 186,800.
- The long-term jobless: There were 5.6 million people unemployed for 27 weeks and more in December, down by 1.6 percent from November and by 13 percent from a year earlier.
- Discouraged workers: This group, which the BLS defines as “persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them,” fell by 373,000 to 945,000 year over year, an impressive 28 percent. Exactly why — if they are no longer “discouraged” or just gave up (see the “losers” section below) — is unclear.
- Transportation workers: Jobs in transportation and warehousing climbed by 50,000 from November, or 1 percent. Seasonal hiring of couriers and messengers accounted for most of that.
- Retail workers: They may not get paid a lot, but 240,000 retail workers were added year over year, a 1.7 percent gain.
- Teens: Still not a pretty picture, but teen unemployment fell by 135,000, to a rate of 23.1 percent vs. 25.2 percent a year earlier.
- Self-employed: The jobless rate for folks who work for themselves fell to 5.5 percent from 6.5 percent a year earlier.
- The “shadow” jobless: Derek Thompson of the Atlantic points out that much of the improvement in the jobless rate is due to the fact that millions have stopped looking for work altogether. Eventually they will respond to the strengthening economy by getting back into the jobs market — raising the unemployment rate — or “it will represent a kind of permanent shadow-group of people neither working nor counted as unemployed.”
- Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: As I pointed out two months ago, the jobs picture is particularly bleak for those coming back from our two most recent wars. No improvement here: the jobless rate for all Iraq/Afghan vets rose to 13.1 percent in December, from 11.7 percent a year earlier.
- Local government, postal workers: There were 280,000 fewer federal, state, and local government jobs compared with a year earlier. Most of that hit came at the local level, a reduction of 181,000 jobs or 1.2 percent. U.S. Postal Service employment fell by 31,300 jobs, or 4.8 percent, from December 2010.