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Two-Year Occupational Winners and Losers


As the labor market continues to deteriorate, the topic on the top of everyone’s mind is: Where are the growth areas for the future?

That question is unanswerable, but we can get a grip on a related issue: Which occupations have fared the best—and the worst—during the downturn?

Here’s the chart

The big occupational winners: Healthcare; protective services; personal care and service; community and social services; and business and financial operations. All of these occupations posted gains over the past two years.

The big occupational losers:Construction and extraction, production, transportation and material moving, installation, maintenance, and repair, and office and administrative support. All of these posted big employment losses over the past two years.

I identified these winners and losers by using BLS data to calculate the percentage change in employment for broad occupational categories, from the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2009.

Looking at this chart, I’m tempted to divide these broad occupational categories into three groups: Goods-related, content-related, and service-related.

Goods-related occupations are about producing and distributing goods. The content-related occupations are, broadly speaking, about creating content and/or intellectual capital for the future—intangible investments, in other words. The service-related occupations are about providing services of all sorts, from accounting to healthcare—the things which are necessary to keep the economy running on a day-to-day level.

Assessing the labor market from this perspective, the goods-related occupations have been blitzed, with production occupations down 18% over the past two years, and construction and extraction down 22%. Horrible.

At the other end of the spectrum, the service-related occupations have by and large done okay. Healthcare occupations are obviously up, but so are business and financial operations occupations (which includes professions like accounting and human resources). The only obvious service-related occupation that is down is office and administrative support.

Then in the middle are the content-related occupations, which are generally flat or down, but not as bad as the goods-related occupations. These tend to have more of a cyclical pattern—up over the first year (from 07III to 08III), and then down over the past year (08III to 09III).

Below are the numbers from the chart


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