Where Have America’s Jobs Gone

There are many reasons U.S. companies give for their lack of robust hiring—from weak consumer spending to uncertainty over the direction of government policies on debt and spending.

But a closer look at hiring provides a more nuanced picture. Some industries have significantly boosted employment over the past year while others continue to shed workers. To be sure, even those adding jobs are hiring far fewer than would be needed to put America’s 14.1 million unemployed back to work.

Manufacturing has been adding jobs since the start of 2010 due in large part to the sharp rebound in automobile production at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC that has filtered to suppliers. On the flip side, just about anything to do with housing, from furniture makers to hardware stores, remains depressed. Homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc., of Horsham, Pa., plans to bring its total employment to 3,300 by Oct. 31. But that is less than half of its peak of about 7,000 in 2005.

very incremental and deliberate re-hiring,” said Jon Downs, senior vice president of human resources for Toll. “We aren’t in a wholesale hiring mode.”

Over the past year, private employers have added 1.7 million jobs, but the net result of 659,000 cuts in government jobs—about a half of them temporary Census workers—mean total U.S. payrolls were up by only 1 million in that span. That leaves the country with 7 million fewer jobs than when the recession started in late 2007.


Here’s what it looks like on the ground in some industries that are among the biggest job gainers and losers over the past year:

Restaurants and Bars

More than 9.3 million Americans work in restaurants, about one in every 10 employed, and the industry has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak hiring environment. Food service has added nearly 216,000 jobs since December 2009, when the industry’s employment bottomed out in the recession. The 2.1% job growth that restaurants have experienced in the year ending June from a year ago is more than twice the nation’s 0.9% job growth rate

Of course, restaurants continue to hire even as the overall economy remains dismal because the work tends to be low-paying, either minimum wage and part-time, or both. Consider McDonald’s Corp. The burger giant hired more than 62,000 people on a national hiring day in April. “McDonald’s and its franchisees continue to receive applications and hire thousands of people every day, whether for short-term work experience or a life-long career,” said Danitra Barnett, Vice President of Human Resources for McDonald’s USA.

The job growth is expected to continue: Industry estimates suggest the sector will add 1.3 million jobs in the next decade.

—Julie Jargon

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