After averaging almost 4 percent over the previous three months, year-over-year job growth in the Middle Tennessee area slowed a bit in March to a still-very-respectable 2.8 percent. Three sectors are in the red versus early 2012 — including, somehow, construction — but big sectors such as business services and manufacturing are still going strong.
Even though millions of people have dropped out of the U.S. labor market and the pace of job growth is agonizingly irregular, the U.S. labor market is steadily healing as evidenced by the number of job openings. But Sudeep Reddy at the Journal points out that we have plenty of mending still to do.
Middle Tennessee's workforce grew by 0.5 percent in November from a year ago, according to federal numbers curated by the Business and Economic Research Center at MTSU. Last month featured the seventh straight drop of at least 2 percent in government employment and the fourth straight in which financial-company employment was off at least 2 percent from a year ago. On the plus side, both manufacturing and professional services job growth stayed solid, and retailers were employing almost 5 percent more people than in late 2011. We'll have to see if that last stat has legs or was primarily the result of hiring pulled forward from December.
Fingers crossed this is just a summer swoon: Middle Tennessee employers slowed their hiring pace in July, causing year-over-year growth to slip below 1 percent for the first time in more than a year. The broad business services field slowed dramatically and the trade sector was mixed, but durable goods manufacturing — think autos first and foremost — is growing at its 12-month average and information jobs are trying desperately to post positive year-over-year numbers. Of note is that the construction sector — a relatively minor employer by direct numbers — is losing ground even though many in that business see work picking up.
The July numbers put us about where we were late last year, when the trend also had been slipping for a few months. If you can't quite make out the numbers in the chart below, here's a bigger version.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development on Monday officially launched an online database linking open jobs to those looking for employment in various industries. The openings advertised range from construction workers and industrial line workers to more advanced engineering and information technology jobs at firms like Gresham Smith and HealthStream.
Economist Julie Hotchkiss at the Atlanta Federal Reserve says a closer look at the labor force participation rate statistics show there's less of a reason to freak out than a lot of observers think. Many of the people who have left the job market are doing so for the right reason.
The implication for the rise in "School" is unmistakable, however. With reasonable expectations, these individuals should re-enter the labor force with enhanced—or at least better-aligned—skills that will be able to make a positive contribution to overall economic growth.
This chart is indeed troubling and provides a telling insight into why so much of our economy still feels feeble even if some important labor statistics look better.
Scott Grannis says the disappointing employment growth reported Friday isn't actually that bad. Split the difference between the household survey and the establishment survey, he says, and you're at 225,000 jobs — right around most people's previous expectations.
I don't see any reason to think that the unexpected slowdown in jobs growth that surfaced in the establishment number reflects any actual slowdown in the economy; the economy never turns on a dime without there being a number of indicators suggesting that something big is going on.
Moody's Economy.com has updated its employment projections for U.S. states and metropolitan areas and sees the nation's job base growing 1.5 percent this year. For Nashville, researchers are forecasting job growth of 2.3 percent this year, 30 basis points better than the state as a whole and a nice tick up from a rather flat 2011. Looking at the bigger picture, Moody's Economy.com's outlook has Middle Tennessee's employment base surpassing its Q1 2008 level in the spring of next year — a year ahead of the country as a whole.