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Unemployment rate drops, but are people looking?

  • U.S. employers added only 96,000 jobs in August; 120,000 were expected
  • Unemployment rate fell to 8.1%, but many Americans stopped looking for work
U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs in August, according to the latest jobs report.

August jobs report disappointing

August jobs report disappointing

Are you better off than you were four years ago? That’s the prevailing question of this presidential election season, and with jobs and unemployment at the epicenter of campaign debate, monthly jobs reports are becoming more and more important.

On the heels of President Obama’s speech that closed out the Democratic National Convention and kicked off the home stretch to the election, a weak jobs report out today may slow any momentum President Obama hoped to gain not only from that speech, but also from the event itself.

It’s probably safe to say most people understand that the unemployment situation in this country is bad -- really bad -- but for the average American, a “weak jobs report” may not be the clearest explanation. So let’s break it down.

U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs in August, a weak figure considering CNNMoney forecast a gain of 120,000 for the month. Some predicted the figure would be close to double what we got. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1%, from 8.3% in July, according to the Labor Department. But that decline still doesn’t signal any good news.

The rate went down because more people gave up looking for work, and the government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching for a job. The situation for long-term unemployed, represented by people who are out of work for 27 weeks or more, isn’t looking good either at 5 million. These people represent 40% of the total unemployed. That’s a grim picture.

To give you an idea of how the August numbers compare to the rest of the year, we’ve had an average monthly job gain of 139,000 in 2012. In August, 15,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, the most in two years. About 8,000 jobs were lost in the auto parts industry. Many of the jobs added were in lower-paying industries such as retail, hotels and restaurants. The U.S. has recovered about half of the 8.8 million jobs lost in the recession, but the unemployment rate has remained above 8% for 43 months in a row now.

The proportion of the population that’s either working or looking for work fell to 63.5% which is the lowest level the labor force participation rate has reached in 31 years.

Job growth and unemployment are a central theme in the economy, so hiring figures and the unemployment rate are among the most significant concerns of this campaign. These numbers are important for both President Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. One thing that may be lurking in Obama's mind is the fact that no president has ever been reelected with the unemployment rate above 7%. Only two more of these monthly jobs reports will come out before the election on November 6, and with jobs being the core issue, these reports could sway some undecided voters.

In his speech at the DNC Thursday night, Obama acknowledged the still-struggling economy and sluggish employment recovery. The White House released a statement following the August report release and it began by stating, “While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007.”

Romney also released a statement: “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover. For every net new job created, nearly four Americans gave up looking for work entirely. This is more of the same for middle class families who are suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. After 43 straight months of unemployment above 8%, it is clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked. We aren’t better off than they were four years ago. My plan for a stronger middle class will create 12 million new jobs by the end of my first term. America deserves new leadership that will get our economy moving again.”

But how long are Americans willing to wait before they see progress and job growth? Are we better off than we were four years ago? Do Americans believe in the programs and policies currently in place? Is it patience we need, or new policies? That’s why the next 60 days or so are so important to American voters.

There’s no question that job growth and unemployment can be complicated issues, but by informing themselves on what makes up these issues, Americans can arm themselves for a better future.

For the 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed, a sluggish economic recovery has left them with a pessimistic outlook on future possibilities. But in the midst of all this, there are in fact some areas of employment that are offering Americans some hope.

With unemployment and job growth at the center of ongoing political debate, employment research firm CareerBuilder analyzed national employment data to figure out which areas of the U.S. job market are actually expanding. CareerBuilder identified occupations for which job listings have increased more than 30% since this time last year.

"Although the pace of job creation has been slower than what we would have expected at this point in the recovery…,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder, “the world's dependency on technology, the pervasiveness of social media, and the need to drive sales and expand into new markets are all driving double-digit growth across a variety of fields."

So while the recession severely impacted some industries like manufacturing, some technology-based industries are expanding. Even though they aren’t creating the mass numbers of jobs this country needs, these trends may be a sign of the future of at least part of America’s job market.

Here are some of the occupations for which job listings increased more than 30%:

  • Software Engineer – Job postings are up 74% from last year. Technologically-savvy workers are in high demand these days as more and more companies begin to rely on mobile devices, mobile apps and the Internet for success. These are the skills and expertise employers are looking for in today’s tech savvy marketplace.
  • Customer Service Representative – Job listings are up 50%. According to CareerBuilder, companies are investing more in “strengthening customer loyalty and extending sales opportunities across industries.”
  • Social Media Manager – The number of job postings is up 48%. This is a position that didn’t exist just a few years ago, but now it's crucial to the development of all types of companies. CareerBuilder says social media outlets are important for companies in increasing visibility, marketing their products and managing brand perceptions. Expertise in social media is a new kind of skill that can make young people very appealing to employers.
  • Truck Driver – Job listings for truck drivers has jumped 45% just in the past year. A slight uptick in manufacturing activity, as well as a spike in the demand for goods and services in the U.S., has kept trucks on the road.  This is one area that’s actually had a hard time filling open positions.
  • Pharmacy Technician – Job postings for pharmacy technicians have increased 43% since this time last year. According to CareerBuilder, an aging population, along with an increase in the number of Americans with access to medical care, is boosting demand across all health-related professions.

Other professions that have grown more than 30% over the past year:

  • Training & Development Manager – up 41%
  • Financial Analyst – up 39%
  • Video Editor – up 36%
  • Sales Representative – up 35%
  • Chef/Cook – up 34%

It’s clear that the characteristics of the U.S. job market have changed not only over the past decade, but even since before the Great Recession. And the skills Americans need in order to succeed in a lot of today’s industries have also changed. An aging baby boomer generation has increased the importance of some professions, while technology has phased out some others. An increasingly tech savvy society has left a lot people behind the skills curve required by a lot of companies today.

One obstacle facing many unemployed Americans today is a skills gap. The National Bureau of Economic Research attributes about one-third of the recent rise in the unemployment rate to a mismatch between open jobs and unemployed workers. Many Americans who were hit by the recession’s job losses, like construction and manufacturing workers, are either not looking for work in the areas that are hiring (such as health care) or they lack the skills or education required to get those jobs.

Many people who are returning to the workforce are looking for jobs that will survive this ongoing sluggish recovery, in hopes that their next job will provide them with a more favorable prospective future. In today’s economy, that may take a little extra work. The health-care industry took initiative and went after the nursing shortage last decade by offering scholarships and tuition reimbursement programs to encourage people to enter the profession, since the high costs of education kept some people from applying. But that program then allowed many more Americans to succeed in that field.

Figuring out which jobs will be in high demand and which ones pay the most is a great way for job seekers to develop the skills they’ll need in order to succeed down the road. To help guide job seekers, 24/7 Wall St. identified a list of the best paying jobs of the future, with some occupations growing as much as 60% by 2020. Some of these jobs have median salaries that are nearly double the national average of $34,450, while some of them provide even more.

Changes in demographics and business operations, including the obvious increasing dependence on mobile and technologically-advanced procedures, will boost a lot of these occupations into high demand over the next few years and further into the future. The first baby boomers turned 65 last year, and as more and more Americans continue to age and live longer, more health-related professionals will be needed in this country. Six out of the 10 high-paying, high-growth occupations identified by 24/7 Wall St. are in the medical field. And while some do require higher education, the three that are growing the most have less demanding educational requirements, such as an associate’s degree.

The Best Paying Jobs of the Future

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