Every five years, the Bureau of the Census takes the pulse of the business community, and the data provide some insight into longer-term trends. It takes a while to compile and interpret, so it is always a little stale by the time it is released, but the questions are designed to identify the bigger movements in business as opposed to the more ephemeral, day-to-day issues. The statistics from the 2012 report are based almost entirely on recession years and that will allow this report to become something of a benchmark in the future since it will be sandwiched between the boom years and the years of recovery (such as it is thus far).
One of the first observations is perhaps the most apparent: the US energy sector has been booming, and there is little reason to think that this expansion will slow down. Most of the predictions assert that shale oil and gas will remake the US economy in substantial ways into the future.
A second observation is not so sanguine. Manufacturing went through a significant shift in this period— especially as concerns the rate of employment. Some 2.1 million jobs were lost in manufacturing, while 173,000 were gained in the mining and extraction sector. It is obvious that the boom in the oil and gas sector is not absorbing the people who have been let go in the manufacturing community. The vast majority of the jobs lost have been due to the rise in automation and robotics. The good news has been that productivity has been improving, but the bad news is that job growth has been anemic. It should be pointed out that this Census data captures the worst of the downturn and less of the recovery to date.
Another observation is also not much of a shock, but it is not really clear whether this is a good thing for the economy long term. The health care sector is now the largest in the economy and accounts for the largest percentage of employees, some 18.6 million. That is up 11% from the number five years ago, and revenue is also up 23%. It now exceeds $2 trillion.
Finally, related to the retail community is in transition, Internet sales are growing and that means less emphasis on the brick-and-mortar stores as well as staffing. The growth in retail now is seen primarily in transportation and warehouse work.
- Chris Kuehl, PhD, Armada Corporate Intelligence