Adorable little economic engines.

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Hard Liquor, Pet Care and Other Job Creators

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg View columnist. 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.”
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The monthly employment reports issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics contain vast troves of industry-level data that is usually almost entirely ignored in the subsequent media coverage. Some people later make use of these numbers to do things like identify and measure job creation in the industries most critical to our nation's economic future. But seriously, who wants to know about THAT?

Monthly U.S. Jobs Report

What's much easier and more rewarding is mining the numbers for trivia. Did you know that an estimated 39,900 U.S. workers were employed in December making bolts, nuts, screws, rivets and washers? That's up from 34,700 five years ago. America's back, baby!

In fact, lots of sectors show significant job gains since early 2010. Which makes sense, given that nonfarm civilian employment in the U.S. bottomed out in February 2010 at 129.6 million (that's seasonally adjusted; the unadjusted number was 128.2 million), and has been growing ever since. And while the big picture on where those gains came from is interesting and all (I wrote about it on Friday), a more detailed look can be surprisingly enlightening. Dig up numbers for a few industries and make them into charts, and you can assemble a revealing portrait of how the U.S. economy has been evolving over the course of this recovery.

The first and most important thing to figure out, of course, is what we've been drinking. You may have heard that the soft-drink business is in the doldrums. And there's certainly anecdotal evidence of a boom in micro-distilleries, micro-breweries and such. Well guess what: This shows up in the employment data!

Let's look at a more serious-sounding industry -- drilling for oil and gas. That's been creating jobs, too, and the chart below doesn't count the ancillary ones like, say, at the Bentley dealership in Houston. It looks like the fall in oil prices is about to put an end to the upward employment trend, though. There is a January number for oil and gas extraction (not shown on the chart), and it's down a couple thousand jobs from December.

Never fear, though. There's always the business of taking care of pets, where employment is on a steady upward trajectory that shows no signs of abating:

What these five-year charts show best, though, is shifting fortunes. As with alcoholic beverages vs. soft ones, there have been clear winners and losers in many parts of the economy. In the investment business, for example (portfolio management and investment advice are two separate BLS categories that I added together):

Or in retailing:

The rise of the Internet shows up in several different categories. What they all have in common, though, is that employment in online-only businesses is still pretty small relative to established categories. Take the industry that I've spent my career in, publishing:

Some industries, such as video rental, have been completely disrupted by the Internet. Book-selling, though, seems to be have halted its decline over the past years:

In general, sectors that help us care for ourselves or our possessions (car washes, nail salons) or amuse ourselves have been adding lots of jobs. One amusement category, though -- gambling -- seems to have stalled out. The below chart doesn't count employment at casino hotels, but that's flat, too:

Finally, a development that is perhaps demographically inevitable but nonetheless depressing:

All the data for these charts is available directly from the BLS. If you don't like these, or just want to see more, all you need is an Internet connection and a spreadsheet.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net