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Unemployment by Detailed Occupation

July 31, 2012 by Joshua Wright

Back in 2000, just 3% of electricians in the United States were unemployed. By the end of the decade, 19% of electricians were out of work — a huge increase that reflected the lasting turmoil wrought by the recession.

Although unemployment among electricians improved to 12.9% in 2011, other occupations haven’t fared so well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provided EMSI with unpublished data on unemployment by detailed occupation from 2000 to 2010 (with 2011 included separately), and the numbers are as unpleasant as you might expect for low-skilled and production workers.

For helpers in construction trades, unemployment went from an estimated 9.8% in 2000 to 36% in 2010 (as of 2011, it was 27.8%). The national jobless rate for millwrights jumped from 4.2% to 25.5%, while structural iron workers and roofers saw a similarly large increase; both went from around 7.5% in 2000 to at least 27% in 2010.

Other occupations started the decade in poor shape and ended the decade in even worse condition. More than one-third of telemarketers were out of work in 2010 (34.8%), compared to 16.4% in 2000. In 2011, the beleaguered occupation was at 31.4% unemployment — the highest-reported jobless rate in the nation.

These percentages come from the Current Population Survey (or household survey), which tracks unemployment among those with prior work experience, classified according to their last job. Unemployment rates are not included for jobs with fewer than 50,000 jobs nationally.

The following are key trends from CPS unemployment figures. The full data for 2000-2010 and 2011, encompassing more than 500 occupations, can be downloaded here (.xls). Note that starting in January 2011, the CPS replaced the 2000 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system with SOC 2010, so the data are not “strictly comparable” with earlier years, per the BLS.

Jobs in Good Shape

This data shows the value of being well-educated … and getting the right education/training. If you’re in healthcare, chances are you have an extremely stable job. Just under 1% of dentists were unemployed in 2011, up from 0.2% in 2000. Similar trends have played out among occupational therapists (0.4% unemployment), physicians and surgeons (0.6%), registered nurses (2%), and pharmacists (3.1%).

Law enforcement and emergency services are also mostly stable lines of work. Detectives and criminal investigators had a 1% jobless rate in 2011, and first-line supervisors of police and detectives were at 1.8%. Unemployment among firefighters, meanwhile, was among the lowest in the nation, at 1.4%, after peaking at 3.5% in 2007.

The same goes for highly skilled computer and IT occupations, such as computer network architects (0.4%) and database administrators (1.3%). Even with these low unemployment rates, only 2.4% of graduates in the U.S. get degrees in computer and information science.

Jobs in Poor Shape … Still

This category is headlined by telemarketers, with their 16.4% unemployment rate in 2000 (see above). But interviewers, except eligibility and loan began the decade with an even higher jobless rate (17.6%) and were at 27.3% in 2011, according to CPS data.

Other occupations with high pre-recession unemployment include dishwashers (11.8% in 2000), construction laborers (11.3), hand packers and packagers (10.6%), and miscellaneous agricultural workers (10.3%). Each of these occupations had substantially higher jobless rates in 2011 than at the start of the decade.

Jobs with Improving Unemployment Rates

We focused at the start on occupations with the largest increases in unemployment. How about those with the largest declines in joblessness? There are only eight occupations that have seen their unemployment rate drop nationally since 2000. The biggest improvement from 2000-2010 was among “other education, training, and library workers,” which went from 4.1% to 3.1% (in 2011, it jumped back up to 5.2%).

Physical therapists didn’t have high unemployment to start the decade (2.6%). But the unemployment rate dropped to 2% in 2010, and was at 1.8% in 2011. A similar improvement occurred among “therapists, all other” — from 1.2% to 0.4% (it was at 1.7% in 2011).

Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents also improved (from 4.1% to 3.7%), but they saw a dramatic increase in 2011 (to 7.1%).

Find out more about EMSI here. Questions or comments on this post can be directed to Josh Wright (jwright@economicmodeling.com). Follow us on Twitter @desktopecon.

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