Is Anyone Still Hiring?

BY busadmin  March 6, 2009 at 10:25 AM EDT

Citi; AP Photo

Question: Is anyone still hiring?

Paul Solman: The number is now in: 651,000 jobs shed in February. Also, from the Bloomberg story this morning:

“The payroll drop in January was revised up to 655,000 from 598,000 and December now shows a 681,000 drop, up from the 577,000 previously estimated. The December decline was the biggest since October 1949.

The U.S. economy has now lost almost 4.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, the biggest employment slump of any economic downturn in the postwar period.”

It all adds up to official unemployment of 8.1%.

But if you add “discouraged” workers who are no longer counted in the workforce because they’ve given up looking for work, we’re well above 10 percent unemployment. Include workers reduced to part-time, like several we met this week (one was down to five hours some weeks), and you’ve got unemployment well above 15 percent. And there’s even an argument that inner city populations are further underreported, since the numbers come from a statistical sample of the country where government surveyors go door to door.

The dreary data duly noted, an anecdote: Earlier this week, three of us were flying home from Chicago, where we’d driven from Elkhart, Indiana, unofficial unemployment capital of the United States. (Our story from Elkhart should be running on tonight’s NewsHour.)

Since our flight from nearby South Bend was canceled, we’d all booked the latest flights available to make sure we’d get home to Boston, New York ,and DC respectively. But we made such good time driving to O’Hare, we arrived in time for earlier flights. Producer Lee Koromvokis stood by and got on her NY flight. I stood by for a Boston flight that had 14 passengers – 14! I had the choice of maybe 20 rows to myself. But the DC flights? Both of them sold out. Associate Producer Diane Lincoln had to wait for the late flight. And I wondered: “Is this because what action and jobs there may be at the moment are all in Washington?”

Next morning, via email, came this article from the Washington Post, which had run Tuesday: ‘We’re Hiring (Really, We are): Health Care, Technology and Even Espionage Jobs Still Plentiful Amid the Gloom’:

“Amid the worst unemployment crisis in a generation, people are finding jobs in the Washington region, from therapists to receptionists to CIA agents. Even as temporary hiring freezes congeal into an employment ice age, the experts say there are hot spots, including health care, engineering, biotech, and software and network design.”

The story’s lead features a physical therapist who “didn’t know that it was the kind of job that was recession proof when I got into it. But it’s turned out to be a real blessing.”

But maybe the blessing is mainly that she’s in the DC area. Because not much further down in the article we read:

“Stimulus spending will pump billions of dollars through government agencies and contractors in the area” and “(l)ocal want ads include regular postings from the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, actively hustling for recruits.”

In general, then, it’s probably better to be in and around DC than pretty much anywhere else in the country.

As to WHICH jobs to shoot for, I’m devoutly agnostic, deeply influenced by an interview with Princeton economist Alan Krueger in 2003 during the so-called “jobless recovery”:

Krueger: Go back to 1960 and ask: How much of the job growth from 1960 through 2003 (a 43-year period) is in occupation categories that did not exist in 1960? It’s close to half! It’s really quite a remarkable number. We see a tremendous amount of job growth in sectors that we can’t even fathom are going to exist in the future. Eonomists have a terrible track record of trying to estimate where we have imbalances in supply and demand. And this is one reason why, by the way, I think that Soviet planning must have been hopeless, because you get the best American economists in the world together to try to predict which sectors we’ll have a skills shortage in, and they had a terrible track record!