Aug 6, 2017 - Economy

Women and baby boomers power the great American jobs machine

It took eight years, but U.S. employment — at least when it comes to the numbers of jobs — is finally back from the recession. And women, African-Americans and baby-boomers have led the way.

Ryan Nunn, an economist with the Hamilton Project, tells Axios that, adjusting for population growth, all the jobs lost in the 2009 recession are now restored. But, he said, "there's been a very different recovery for different kinds of Americans." Hamilton released a report on Friday detailing these results, using monthly jobs figures released by the federal government.

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Graphic: Chris Canipe / Axios

Another bright spot is the Amazon economy. Jed Kolko, chief economist with, tells Axios that while brick-and-mortar sellers like electronics and clothing stores are seeing job plunges over the last year, e-commerce employment is up 5%, and transportation and warehousing by 4% (see chart below). "These are essentially the Amazon categories," Kolko says.

Digging into the numbers:

  • Women did not fall as far as men — losing 2.9 percentage points by their low point in 2011, compared with 5.5 for men — and they have now fully recovered from the recession. Men are still down by 1.6.
  • African Americans have done even better than women as a demographic group. They suffered a 6 percentage point drop in employment after the financial crash, but are now 0.4 percentage points above the pre-recession level.
  • Hispanics, after dropping by 5.4 percentage points, are now down just 0.2.

"Whites were never hit as hard during the worst of the recession," says Nunn. "But they've actually recovered more slowly as well." That said, African American workers and women still remain employed at lower rates than white men.

In addition, the U.S. economy is increasingly reliant on older workers: Though employment rates for working men in their prime (ages 25-54) has consistently trended down for decades, workers between the age of of 55-64 are employed at record high rates.

A thought bubble: The less-than-full recovery for white men — including stubbornly flat wages year after year — helps explain the Trump campaign's success with its anti-immigrant message, and why the administration is pushing policies like a crackdown on affirmative action.

How to read the chart above: The circles indicate industries, sized by their average number of employees over time. From there, the chart is doing two things — tracking jobs and earnings from 2006 to 2017 (the up and down movement of the circles shows the change in number of jobs; left to right is the change in earnings), and projecting forward from 2014 to 2024 (signified by the intensity of the colors of the circles).

  • The vertical axis indicates change in employment from the same month a year prior.
  • The horizontal axis indicates the average wage within the industry.
  • Blue circles are industries likely to grow over that decade (deep blue means strong projected growth).
  • Pink means they will shrink (deep pink means serious shrinkage).
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