What do people do for a living in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area? (Editor’s note: Seattle readers, be patient or scroll down. We’ll get to you.) If you rank the sectors with the most jobs, it’s health care, retail, leisure and hospitality — which rank near the top almost everywhere.
A more revealing way to sort things is by employment location quotient, which is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data and measures how much more prevalent an industry is in one area than in the nation as a whole. These are, in effect, the New Yorkiest industries:
The list goes to 19 because when it went to 20 I got warning messages from Bloomberg’s in-house charting app that the graphic was too big. Which made me sad, because the next two “industries” in the ranking were the oh-so-New Yorky theater companies and art dealers. These are all what are known as four-, five- and six-digit industries under the North American Industry Classification System, meaning not broad sectors but narrow and sometimes very narrow ones. I weeded out overlap, so there should be no double-counting of jobs in the above numbers. Someone who really cared about design and readability wouldn’t try to squeeze so much into one table, I know, but I was more interested in the gloriously true-to-cliché but also quite informative picture of the New York-area economy that such a long list provides.
There’s journalism, represented by the two parts that I’ve been working in since coming to New York in 1996 (news syndicates and periodical publishers), and its relatives in advertising and public relations. There’s high finance. There’s fashion. There’s books. There’s music (that’s the kind of record production they’re talking about). There’s performing arts. There’s fashion. There’s the diamond guys. There’s the newsstands. There’s the photo-equipment stores, or at least the photo-equipment wholesalers. And there’s … libraries and archives, for which the best explanation seems to be that the New York Public Library is a private nonprofit that gets funding from the city, meaning that its employees are almost certainly included in the by-industry data (which excludes government workers) while public library workers in most cities are not.
Here’s the same exercise for the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim. It delivers on the clichés as well, with agents — of course! — coming in first place.
Just missing the cut here was “other aircraft parts and equipment,” a remnant of an industry that used to be a very big deal in the Los Angeles area but has been decimated since the early 1990s.* Overall the list is a mix of well-paid entertainment industry work and grittier, less-well-remunerated manufacturing and wholesaling jobs (although pay is pretty good in doll, toy and game manufacturing, thanks to the presence of industry leader Mattel Inc.’s headquarters in El Segundo). This preponderance of blue-collar industries won’t come as a surprise to people in the Los Angeles area — which is also home to the country’s two busiest ports, among other things — but it doesn’t exactly accord with the area’s global image. Oh, and the high location quotient for HMO (short for health management organization) medical centers is a California-wide thing: Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland-based nonprofit HMO** that runs its own network of hospitals, has a 50% share of the state’s health insurance market.
Here are the top-location-quotient industries in the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area, Chicago-Naperville-Elgin:
They still make a lot of stuff in and around Chicago! Manufacturing employment in the area is not what it used to be, with a 39% decline since 1990 compared with 27% nationwide, but it’s been mostly rising since 2010. There are also signs here of Chicago’s role as a mid-American economic hub: the commodities markets, the professional organizations, the credit bureaus. There’s not much sign of likely growth industries of the future, though — and to some extent, that’s true of all three of the biggest metro areas.
One can make these lists for every U.S. metropolitan area, and even every county, using the BLS’s QCEW data viewer. The agency suppresses local industry data when it might reveal details about individual employers, so smaller areas will often deliver less accurate rankings. Still, it’s a wonderful way to explore the nation’s far-from-uniform economic geography, as I’ve been doing in my columns for the past few days. And I really should stop there, but as I was looking through a few other metro areas’ most distinctive industries, I came across this great Top 10 for Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue:
One can find all the Seattle area’s iconic modern corporations reflected here: aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. (which moved its corporate headquarters but not much else to Chicago in 2001), software giant Microsoft Corp., “electronic shopping and mail-order house” Amazon.com Inc., coffee juggernaut Starbucks Corp.*** But signs of the area’s past are apparent, too, in the form of fishing, seafood packaging, the port — and the by-now-totally-retro monorail. Local economic data can tell some very interesting stories.
* Worse than decimated, actually. Employment in transportation equipment manufacturing in the Los Angeles area is down 65% since 1990.
** The preferred term for what Kaiser does now seems to be integrated managed care consortium, but the acronym IMCC hasn’t really caught on.
*** Starbucks headquarters employees do not appear to be included in the tally for coffee and tea manufacturing, but workers at its “flexible roasting plant” in the Seattle suburb of Kent probably are.
Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”