While computer makers, major airlines, telephone companies, newspapers and retailers shed employees in 2001-04, education, health, home-building and local governments added workers.
EASTON, Md. — Jeannette Blanchfield counts herself among the survivors in the nation’s churning labor market.
Blanchfield, 55, was among hundreds of employees who lost their jobs in 2003, when Black & Decker shuttered its power-tool factory here, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and moved most of the work to Mexico. She had worked at the plant for 28 years, starting out on an electrical-cord assembly line and rising through the ranks to operating a fork-lift to move parts for cordless power drills.
“I was scared to death” by the idea of looking for a new job, Blanchfield recalled during a recent interview in one of the plant’s offices. Turned out, she didn’t have to go far; she was hired by the plant’s new tenant, defense contractor SFA of Largo, Md.
SFA uses the cavernous building to produce mobile latrines, laundry rooms, showers and other military field-support systems for the Army. In a building that hummed with more than 1,000 workers in its heyday, SFA employs about 100 people, including about 20 former Black & Decker plant workers. Today Blanchfield works in a cubicle, at a computer, helping manage inventory there.
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As Blanchfield put it, she was “one of the lucky ones,” both in Easton and in the nation, having landed a job with one of the many U.S. employers that expanded their work forces in recent years, even as others were slashing their payrolls.
Her experience illustrates the changing nature of the American workplace as global competition, new technologies and shifts in demand have transformed the kinds of job many workers hold.
By last December the nation had about as many workers on non-farm payrolls as before the recession. However, the economic contraction and recovery of recent years redistributed jobs among industries, states and the sexes, according to a Washington Post analysis of Labor Department figures. Some of the changes reflected the acceleration of long-term trends, while others resulted from the events unique to the period.
Jeans factories, computer makers, major airlines, telephone companies, newspapers and retailers were among the industries that shed jobs almost continuously from March 2001, when employment peaked and the recession began, through December 2004, the latest month for which figures are available.
Other employers kept hiring as they rode a rising tide of demand for certain services and products, particularly in education, health, home-building and local government, the data show. Companies such as SFA also thrived by supplying specialized services and products to the federal government as it spent more on homeland security and defense.
Fewer workers produce goods now than they did before the recession, and more of them provide services, particularly in education and health. Fewer work for employers in New England and the industrial Midwest; more work in the District of Columbia area, Florida and the Southwest.
Women held more jobs last month than they did in March 2001, while men still lagged.
Government jobs grew, but only because of rising payrolls at the state and local level; the federal government shed jobs.
“There was a repositioning” by employers after the hiring binge that accompanied the economic boom in the late 1990s, said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research.
“During the party phase … we were hiring everybody” because businesses believed the stock market and demand would climb ever higher, Yamarone recalled. Unemployment dipped as low as 3.8 percent in 2000, and the nation’s tally of non-farm payroll jobs peaked at 132.5 million in March 2001. Then came the recession, and a slump in demand that forced all companies to re-examine their staffing needs. Many employees, like Blanchfield, were caught up in the changes and managed to land on their feet. But 8 million people also remained unemployed in January. Of those, 1.6 million — 1 in 5 — had been unemployed for more than six months.
Some of the shifts in jobs illustrate how recessions accelerate long-term trends. The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has been declining, and jobs have been migrating regionally for decades.
Overall, “goods-producing” industries, which include manufacturing, construction, logging and mining, accounted for just 18.4 percent of the non-farm payroll jobs in March 2001. That share had shrunk to 16.7 percent by year-end. Meanwhile “service-providing” industries accounted for 81.6 percent of such jobs on the eve of the recession, a portion that grew to 83.34 percent.
During the past 45 months, manufacturing has lost 2.5 million jobs, or 15 percent, with many of the cuts concentrated among makers of textiles, computers, electronics and machinery. The headlines were filled with examples: Levi Strauss closed its last U.S. apparel factory in 2003; Pillowtex, maker of Cannon and Fieldcrest towels, dismissed 6,450 workers in August 2003, in the largest single-day layoff in North Carolina history; Boeing eliminated tens of thousands of jobs as orders plummeted for its commercial aircraft.
Meanwhile, service providers added 2.1 million jobs, growing 2 percent since the recession began.
The service category that posted the biggest gains is what the Labor Department calls “ambulatory health-care services,” which includes all types of outpatient health services, such as the offices of doctors, dentists, therapists, optometrists, and centers that collect blood or provide kidney dialysis or diagnostic testing. These employers added jobs steadily, for a gain of 584,400 jobs, or 13.3 percent.
Educational service providers added 313,600 jobs, a gain of 12.7 percent, as employment grew at colleges, universities and schools of management, technical and trade skills.
The air transport industry as a whole lost 124,000 jobs, or 20 percent, in the past 45 months, but low-fare airlines thrived. JetBlue Airways, with about 8,000 employees, has been hiring ever since it began service five years ago. The carrier plans to add at least 2,700 workers this year.
Some of the industries that took off during the stock boom, such as telecommunications and Internet-related service companies, cratered during the bust.
Telecommunications employers have cut 298,400 jobs, or 22.4 percent, since March 2001. Internet publishing and broadcasting, a category that includes Web-based information sites, lost 13,500 jobs, or 26.8 percent. Internet service providers, search portals and data processing employers shaved 111,000 jobs, or 21.6 percent.
Some of the short-term developments had positive results. The Federal Reserve reacted to the downturn by dramatically lowering interest rates, which fueled a housing boom. Nearly half a million jobs were added in industries related to building, selling, furnishing and landscaping homes.
Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs started growing again last year, rising by 76,000. But employers say the new manufacturing jobs require workers with more skills than those who used to perform repetitive tasks on the old assembly lines. Those jobs are gone forever.
Blanchfield figures she got hired at first because SFA was “really looking for forklift drivers,” but she was able to move up quickly because she had gained some computer training, inventory-management experience and “people skills” during her years with Black & Decker.
She took a pay cut when she changed jobs, but draws a Black & Decker pension that compensates a bit, she said, adding that SFA’s benefits are better. “I’ve been very lucky,” Blanchfield added.