How the US job market is evolving

JOSH BOAK
Last updated 09:03 09/12/2013

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As the US job market improves, it's also evolving, with winners and losers.

Warehouses and trucking companies are doing more holiday hiring than the stores they're working for.

Factory workers are getting more overtime, while pay is nearly flat for hotel and restaurant employees.

Retirement-age Americans are staying on the job.

And for people who've been out of work for more than six months, the outlook has gone from painful to desperate.

Here's a look at five trends that emerge from the November US employment report released Friday:

HOLIDAY SHOPPING
Hiring typically gets a boost from the holiday season. But online shopping has changed the mix.

Take a look at transportation and warehouse jobs: Those sectors added 30,500 jobs in November, the Labor Department said.

That's 50 per cent more than the November 2012 increase. These are FedEx and UPS gigs - the seasonal workers who ship you the deluxe limited DVD edition of "Downton Abbey."

Amazon alone planned to hire 20,000 additional holiday workers this year, according to the personnel firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Last month, the shipping sector added more jobs than brick-and-mortar retailers did. Stores added 24,800, only half as many as in the previous year.

Still, you might hold off on getting your commercial driver's license. If Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos can deliver on his now-famous dream, many of those shipping jobs could eventually flow to Bezos' armada of drones.

DEATH OF FACTORIES GREATLY EXAGGERATED
There's been a lot of handwringing about the plight of manufacturing. Factory orders have tumbled in recent months, government reports show.

But industry surveys show that assembly lines are still cranking away.

Friday's jobs report suggests that factories are booming. Manufacturers added 27,000 jobs. The result is that total factory employees cracked the 12 million mark for the first time since 2009.

What's more, factory workers are averaging 4.5 hours of overtime each week, an increase of nearly 10 per cent over the year.

We're talking more cars, more steel, more machinery - and more spillover effects that boost other sectors, like transportation and technology.

GREYER WORKERS
The unemployment rate is just 4.9 per cent for Americans older than 65, compared with 7 per cent for adults as a whole.

Dating to November 2012, the number of senior citizens who either have a job or are looking for one has grown by nearly half a million to 7 million.

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In some cases, they kept working after they reached retirement age because their nest egg vanished during the financial crisis.

There's another factor, too: Social Security. To receive full pension benefits, Americans now have to wait until age 66, instead of 65.

STAGNANT PAY AT THE BOTTOM
Restaurants and hotels created nearly 16 per cent of the jobs added over the past 12 months.

Those industries are known for paying low wages to their fry cooks and cleaning staff. Fast food chains like McDonald's have been at the epicenter of a battle over low wages, with employees around the US last week staging walkouts.

Restaurants and hotels added 361,000 workers this year. And basic economic theory says greater demand for workers usually leads to higher pay.

So how much did restaurants and hotels have to raise pay to attract people in November? Just US$0.15 $0.18 an hour to US$11.80 (NZ$14.25).

Based on the average number of hours the industry's employees work each week, that wage is roughly at the poverty line for a parent and child. And since September, leisure industry wages have actually dipped 3 US cents an hour.

LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED
Even as the number of unemployed Americans has fallen nearly 350,000 in the past two months, the ranks of the long-term unemployed have barely budged. They number about 4.1 million.

And they're not catching many breaks. Companies are shying away from hiring workers with extended gaps in their resumes.

More than 37 per cent of unemployed Americans in November have been out of work for half a year or more, a higher proportion than in October.

If most of these Americans continue to be viewed as unemployable, that trend will hold back the economy's growth.

White House officials and Democrats in Congress argue that such figures illustrate the need for extended unemployment benefits, which are set to expire December 28.

The extended benefits program provides 28 extra weeks in most states, paid for by the federal government, on top of the 26 weeks typically available.

If that programme lapses, 1.3 million people will immediately lose benefits.

An additional 800,000 would do so in the first two months of 2014. The White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill have stepped up their support for extending the extra benefits as part of budget talks.

- AP

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