Digging Into Jobs Data: Factory Workers, Vets Gain

In the last year, the unemployment rate for veterans of Gulf War II (Iraq and Afghanistan) has dropped significantly, from 12.5 percent down to 7.6 percent. Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

February added another month of strong job growth to the recovery, with 227,000 net new jobs. It marked the third month in a row where nonfarm payrolls increased by more than 200,000—the first time that’s happened since, well … since this time last year. Reminds you just how big of a wall the recovery hit last spring after such a promising start. The same could happen in 2012, but with Europe seeming to tighten up its debt crisis and the U.S. debt-ceiling debate behind us (for now), the potential headwinds appear less daunting this year.

So who were the big winners and losers last month? First, the sectors.

Let’s start with the one that has gotten so much news for its recent rebirth: manufacturing. American manufacturers added 31,000 jobs in February—strong, but not nearly as strong as January’s 52,000. Still, it’s been a good year. Seasonally adjusted, there are 227,000 more manufacturing jobs today than in February 2011. Some of the biggest hiring growth has come from the fabricated metal products sector (think welding and machining), which has added 68,200 jobs in the past year, including 23,000 since December 2011.

The retail trade sector had a down month, especially department stores, which shed some 25,000 jobs in February. That’s not too surprising considering the post-holiday sag that typically occurs. But there has been good year-over-year growth in the retail trade sector. Even though on the whole it lost 7,400 jobs in February, seasonally adjusted there are now 194,700 more retail jobs than a year ago. Solid.

Professional and business services added the most jobs last month, with payrolls expanding by 82,000. This is good news, especially since so many of these jobs are well-paying ones. Professions such as accounting, management consulting, computer systems design, and engineering all posted promising growth in February.

The education and health services sector also had a good month, adding 71,000 new jobs, including 15,000 in hospitals. Leisure and hospitality also shows signs of getting off the mat: The “food services and drinking places” category, presumably bars and restaurants, added 40,800 new jobs. Just in time for March Madness.

It also appears we’re getting closer to staunching the bleeding of public jobs. The federal government, however, still lost 7,000 jobs last month. Seasonally adjusted, federal payrolls have shed 56,000 jobs in the past 12 months. But a bright spot is the local government education sector, which added 5,200 jobs in February after cutting 3,100 jobs from December 2011 to January 2012.

Now, demographics. Let’s start with the kids. Teenagers are still having a hard time finding jobs, as the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds rose from 23.2 percent to 23.8 percent last month. That number has barely budged since February 2011, when it was 23.9 percent.

Looking at race numbers, one thing that sticks out is the unemployment rate for black men, which rose from 12.7 percent in January to 14.3 percent in February. While part of that could be due to more black men starting to look for work, the number who are reportedly employed fell by about 140,000. Meanwhile the unemployment rate for black women ticked down to 12.4 percent in February from 12.6 percent in January. A year ago it was 13 percent.

Veterans are making solid employment gains. In the past year, the unemployment rate for veterans of Gulf War II (Iraq and Afghanistan) has dropped significantly, from 12.5 percent to 7.6 percent. For men, who make up the bulk of veterans, that rate decreased from 13.3 percent in February 2011 to 7.6 percent last month.

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