Where the Jobs Are

A look at private industry job growth and wages in 2010.

September 20, 2010

While technically the Great Recession may have ended sometime in the second half of 2009, it’s clear that the U.S. economy is mired in a tepid recovery at best. Job growth is anemic and not nearly strong enough to make up for two years’ worth of job losses or move the needle on unemployment, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

That said, over the past seven months the private sector has seen a net gain of 630,000 jobs, giving us the opportunity to take a first look at where the jobs are growing and what types of opportunities they are providing to America’s workers: job seekers, new labor market entrants, and current job holders.

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data to track private industry employment and wages from December 2007 (the start of the recession) through July 2010 (the most recent month of data available), NELP finds:

  • To date, net job growth in 2010 hasn’t been distributed evenly across the economy. Growth has been concentrated in mid- and lower-wage industries.

By contrast, higher-wage industries showed weak growth and even net losses.

  • There’s a striking imbalance between the jobs that were lost and the jobs that are growing. Net job losses in 2008-2009 were widely distributed and included significant losses in higher-wage industries.

By contrast, net job growth in 2010 has been driven disproportionately by industries with median wages below $15 per hour.

  • Common occupations in growth industries include many front-line, nondegree jobs that often pay low wages and annual earnings. Among industries that grew in 2010, the top three occupations are retail sales persons, cashiers, and food preparation workers.

Combined, these occupations numbered almost 10 million jobs in July 2010, with median wages below $10 per hour.

This analysis is a first look based on seven months of job growth data, and trends may shift in the months ahead, NELP reports. But the findings raise an early warning of the possibility of unequal growth that could prove as challenging to hopes for a broadly shared recovery.

Read the full report [pdf].