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As we start the New Year, we face what is perhaps the most unpredictable and bizarre labor market I can remember. This morning the Conference Board released the December Help-Wanted Online report, which apparently shows a sharp increase in labor demand over the past year in most occupations. However, the BLS employment by occupation data shows no corresponding gain, even in occupations with soaring want ads. Nor does the unemployment by occupation data show any corresponding movements.

I have my own thoughts about what the data means, which I’ll share below. But first let me present the full array of data, by occupation, so you can make your own judgments.

The first column of data in the table below is the Supply/Demand Rate, as calculated by the Conference Board. That indicates the ratio of unemployed workers to ads, so a small number is better. The second column is the change in online ads over the past year, as measured by the Conference Board, so a big number shows that demand has ramped up. The third and fourth columns are the changes in occupational employment and unemployment over the past year, respectively, as measured by the BLS.

The ordering of occupations by supply/demand rate feels more or less right. But when it comes to the link between changes in demand, employment, and unemployment, there’s little consistency. We’ve got occupations with soaring demand and no gains in employment (management, transportation). We’ve got occupations with good supply/demand ratios and no gains in demand (health practitioners). And so forth and so on.

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A Bizarre Labor Market
Supply/Demand yr/yr percentage change**
Rate* Want Ads Employment Unemployment
Healthcare practitioner and technical 0.3 2% -1% 8%
Computer and mathematical 0.4 27% -3% 21%
Life, physical, and social science 0.8 40% 4% -3%
Architecture and engineering 1.0 47% 1% -18%
Management 1.4 56% -3% -5%
Legal 1.5 -6% 1% -32%
Business and financial operations 2.1 6% 2% 10%
Community and social services 2.3 19% -8% 6%
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media 2.6 9% -1% 12%
Healthcare support 2.6 2% 0% 7%
Sales and related 3.5 -2% 2% -1%
Office and administrative support 3.9 21% 0% 3%
Installation, maintenance, and repair 4.0 36% 3% 3%
Education, training, and library 4.3 22% -1% -7%
Personal care and service 5.5 8% 5% 14%
Transportation and material moving 7.4 61% 2% -2%
Protective service 8.0 34% 1% 36%
Food preparation and serving 9.2 26% 2% 6%
Production 10.8 59% 10% -6%
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance 14.1 39% -2% 0%
Farming, fishing and forestry 28.4 38% 2% 52%
Construction and extraction 29.7 31% -8% -15%
*Supply/demand rate, calculated by the Conference Board, is the number of unemployed workers
divided by number of want ads based on latest data.
**December 2009-December 2010 for online wants ads, November 2009-November 2010 for other data
Data: The Conference Board, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Calculations: South Mountain Economics LLC

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My interpretation: The labor market is getting ready for a massive rise in employment over the next year, as companies finally start hiring for positions they’ve been advertising for.

We’ll find out soon.

Source: A Bizarre Labor Market