One word to describe the labor market these past few years: whiplash.
Unemployment soared and then plunged down to its lowest level since 1969. The private sector lost more than 20 million jobs in the start of the pandemic, but by last year had gained them all back.
Hotels had their lowest occupancy rate since the Great Depression and now they’re full. Airlines de-staffed, then re-staffed. Restaurant workers left and then came back (somewhat).
And with that, the mix of jobs — the overall landscape of what we all do for our livings — has changed too.
We crunched the numbers for 2022, and — lo and behold — that transformation is still happening.
Arts and Entertainment
The Grinch stole the show at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis this past December. The crowds were record-breaking, said Kimberly Motes, managing director.
“Our holiday production of Dr. Seuss’s ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ had 58,000 people and, from a ticket sales perspective, was our highest-grossing show in our history,” she said.
But things are not the same as they were. “December of 2019 for example, we had 72 full-time staff. We are currently at 63 so we have not gotten back to pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
Subscriptions are down, prices of materials and wages are up, and there’s a basic uncertainty about what audiences will look like this year.
An estimated 185,000 people all across the U.S. found new jobs in arts and entertainment last year; that’s an 8% growth. But the industry as a whole is still 3% below where it was before the pandemic. This story unfolded in one way or another across lots of different industries.
Demand is growing for gold, silver, copper, lithium and cobalt, said Rich Nolan, head of the National Mining Association.
Mining, including oil and gas, gained nearly 50,000 workers last year alone. The workforce grew 9%. Mining alone gained 6,800 — a 4% growth — and is now just 2,000 jobs short of its level at the end of 2019. Plus, orders from China are way up.
“Demand (is) exploding as they reopen, the forecast for things like graphite and nickel,” Nolan said, “things like graphite and nickel (are) growing 40-fold.”
But yet again, employment in this sector has not returned to what it was pre-pandemic. In some cases, like mineral mining, we’re just still in recovery and will likely get back to pre-pandemic levels very soon.
Fewer workers in some sectors
“But on the other hand, there’s maybe just some parts of industries that are just going to have fewer workers moving forward, even if demand has picked back up,” said Nick Bunker, head of the hiring lab at Indeed — which is a Marketplace underwriter.
For example, even though leisure and hospitality employment grew 7% last year, adding more than a million jobs, there are still almost half a million fewer people employed in that industry than before the pandemic. And it’s not clear whether they’ll fully come back.
One of the industries that saw the biggest growth in percentage terms in the entire U.S. economy in 2022 was hotels, where employment grew 10%.
“Hotels are hiring and hiring at the highest wages in our history,” said Chip Rogers, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
There was phenomenal employment growth at hotels, but they’re still 260,000 workers short of pre-pandemic times. And the jobs are different.
“There’s a new normal, and it really focuses on food and beverage,” Rogers said, “because the business traveler has not returned the way that we experienced it pre-pandemic.”
For some industries, an advantage
For all their hiring troubles, these industries could have an advantage going into an economic downturn — they’re already lean, so layoffs might be less likely, said Bunker.
“If they’re still trying to catch up to where they were before things slowed down … it might be a cushion,” he said.
Compare that to the big tech firms that hired like crazy and are now rolling out layoffs even before an economic slowdown.
Industry winners and losers
But for all the industries that are rebounding, others are in straight-up decline. Electronics and appliance stores, furniture stores, department stores — they collectively lost more than 80,000 workers last year, and are all roughly 10% below pre-pandemic levels thanks to the shift to buying online. On the other hand, some industries have come out unequivocal winners last year and through the pandemic.
“We’re hiring like crazy and I think it’s going to keep going,” said Matt Vaughan, who runs the applied science and technology group at research organization Battelle. The number of workers employed in scientific research and development services grew 21% during the pandemic and more than 6% last year alone.
“There are challenges in national security and climate resilience, and transformational opportunities before us in health care, and these things require physical sciences,” he said.
A rearranging of the workforce
Between all the industries that lost workers and gained them, the U.S. added 4.8 million non-farm jobs last year, and in the process the landscape of what we collectively do for work changed.
“It’s a large-scale restructuring,” said Michael Montgomery, associate director at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “But the labor market goes through large-scale restructurings all the time. It’s just looking back at history, you don’t think about them as being a restructuring.”
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