Why the Current Job Market Recovery Is Stronger Than You Think

by: Mark J. Perry
In its annual Labor Day outlook, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports that the U.S. job market is well on the road to recovery and is actually rebounding sooner and faster compared to the jobless recoveries that followed the previous two recessions (1990-1991 and 2001). Here are some highlights:

1. At this point in the previous two recoveries – following the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions – the job market was actually getting worse. Many people are so caught up looking at the weekly and monthly numbers, that they fail to look at the bigger trends, which indicate just how much the job market has improved over the last 12 months. The statistics indicate that the job market has made great strides over the last 12 months and appears to rebounding sooner compared to the previous two recessions.

2. Monthly job cuts have numbered fewer than 100,000 for 14 consecutive months, a streak that has not been achieved since 1999-2000. The current 12-month moving average, which stands at 52,778 as of the end of July, is already well below the lowest annual average achieved during the last period of economic expansion, when the moving average bottomed out around 64,000 (see chart above).

3. Job losses due to the recession turned to gains as of January 2010, with payrolls experiencing five consecutive months of net growth that saw more than one million new jobs added to the economy. The gains slowed in June and July as the government shed tens of thousands of temporary Census workers, resulting in overall total non-farm job losses of 352,000 over the two-month period. Despite those losses, payrolls have still seen net growth totaling 654,000 jobs so far this year, due in large part to steady job gains in the private sector. The private sector has had seven consecutive months of job gains, adding a net total of 630,000 new jobs to the economy since January 1. While the payroll gains remain weak, they are occurring much sooner when compared to the 2001 recession, when it took 21 months before the economy began to add jobs on a consistent basis.

4. While the unemployment rate remains historically high and the decline is not occurring fast enough for most, it definitely appears to be heading in the right direction. If the economy were following the same pattern as the early 1990s recession or the 2001 recession, we would be facing another three to six months of rising unemployment.

5. When you look at any of the employment statistics on a month-to-month or week-to-week basis, there are going to be ups and downs; particularly at this stage of the recovery. However, when you look at the overall trend since June 2009, everything is headed in a positive direction.

6. Hiring will accelerate in the coming months, but not before employers maximize the productivity of their existing workers by adding new technology and increasing hours. In the meantime, the job market will remain fiercely competitive as the recently unemployed square off against the long-term unemployed as well as with job seekers re-entering the labor pool after abandoning it out of frustration. Job seekers should view Labor Day as the beginning of the workplace New Year and make a resolution to abandon all passive job-search strategies for ones that are far more aggressive.