The U.S. labor market has been looking stronger in recent months. Since jobs began to increase in early 2010, private-sector companies have added two million workers, with the overwhelming bulk of the gains coming from small businesses. So far this year, payroll increases have accelerated to a healthy 214,000 per month, the strongest four-month pace in five years.
But there’s a catch. The quality of the jobs the U.S. is creating right now in terms of pay, benefits, hours, and skills leaves a lot to be desired. The problem is not only the depth of the recession and the sluggishness of the recovery. It also reflects the changing structure of the U.S. economy, as more manufacturing operations shift to overseas locations, while service businesses, which often pay much less, take a more dominant role in job creation.
Previously high-paying jobs in manufacturing have gone the way of the Edsel. U.S. factories lost 3 million jobs from 2000 to 2004, jobs that did not return during the boom leading up to the recession, along with another 2.2 million from 2007 to 2010. Those are unlikely to come back, as well. Manufacturing jobs were 20 percent of private-sector payrolls in 1990, 15 percent in 2000, and just over 10 percent in April. Large multinational corporations have cut 2.9 million U.S. jobs over the past decade, while adding 2.4 million workers to their overseas operations.