A Labor Day upside: Industries are rehiring

Here's a good sign for the U.S. economy: More displaced workers are getting rehired in the industries they left, often without having to take a pay cut.

From January 2011 to December 2013, about 4.3 million people lost jobs they had held for at least three years, according to a U.S. Labor Department report. As of January 2014, 61 percent were back at work, up from 56 percent in 2012 and 49 percent during the height of the recession in early 2010.

Slightly more than half of those re-employed had jobs in their former industries, up from 47 percent in January 2012 and 44 percent in January 2010. A majority, 52 percent, of those reporting wages said they were earning the same or more than they had at the jobs they had lost.

That's an improvement from earlier Labor Department reports. In 2012, 54 percent of those re-employed were in lower-paying full-time jobs, and in 2010, 55 percent were in lower-paying positions. At the start of the recession in January 2008, 55 percent of re-employed workers were in full-time jobs that paid the same or more as their former jobs.

The Labor Department defines a dislocated worker as someone 20 years old or older who lost or left a job because their plant or company moved or shut down, because there wasn't enough work for them, or because their job or shift was eliminated.

The chance of finding a new job varied significantly by demographic group. Just 55 percent of blacks had regained employment, while 62 percent of whites and 65 percent of Hispanic found new jobs.

About 21 percent of workers who lost their jobs over the three-year period were still unemployed as of January, and 18 percent had dropped out of the labor force. Older Americans left the labor force at the highest rates, with many likely retiring.

Unfortunately, 17 percent of displaced workers between the ages 20 to 24 also dropped out. This suggests that even with a few years of experience, they're having difficulty finding full-time jobs.

However, it's a positive sign that the rehiring hasn't been dependent on any one sector or on how jobs in that sector pay.

Nearly 70 percent of people who had held jobs in the leisure and hospitality sectors found new jobs as of January. While most of these are low-paying positions, such gains weren't limited to low-wage sectors. For instance, the transportation and utilities industry, which typically pays much better, saw an equal rate of employment.

And overall, about two-thirds of managers and professional employees -- also segments with relatively high pay -- had been able to find employment.

Still, not all areas are seeing a rehiring rebound. At the other end of the scale just under 53 percent of former hospital workers found new jobs, one of the lowest rates of any sector.

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.

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