A White Collar Recession? Wrong Color

Despite the widely publicized woes of highly paid white-collar workers, economist Bruce Steinberg of Merrill Lynch & Co. points out that 75% of the 820,000 employees (excluding health care workers) cut from private payrolls since June have been blue-collar factory or construction workers. And though service-sector employment has slowed more than in past downturns, the biggest hit has been taken by lower-level employees such as sales clerks, bank tellers, and office temps.

Statistics tell the story. While overall joblessness has jumped from 5.3% to 6.1% over the past year, the unemployment rate among white-collar managers and professionals has only edged up from 1.9% to 2.1%. But the rate has climbed to 4.4% among sales, technical, and clerical types, and among skilled and unskilled blue-collar workers it has jumped to 7.1% and 9.9%, respectively. Many industries that have cut payrolls, such as retail and wholesale trade and banking, have still made no net reduction in their management ranks.

In sum, there's a noticeable blue ring around the so-called white-collar recession. "Nearly 99% of the net job loss to date," says Steinberg, "has been among production and nonsupervisory workers--the same as in every recession."

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