Even in a jobless recovery, people are finding work -- if they have the right skills. Or if they are willing to move.
Last month, the U.S. economy produced a disappointing 21,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That capped a three-year period in which over 2 million jobs have been lost. But there are pockets of opportunity, both in a handful of industries and in some fast-growing regions, such as Loudoun County in Virginia, that have benefited from the recent growth in defense spending.
Some areas, like accounting, manufacturing and publishing, are shrinking, but other sectors are burgeoning. Hospitals, a perennial job creator, added almost 60,000 jobs in the 12 months ended February 2004.
But there was hiring in some surprising quarters as well. Management and technical consulting added almost 24,000 new workers in that time. The securities industry grew by more than 8,000 jobs. And there remains a pressing need for teachers.
Nationwide, education-related jobs grew by 56,500. These sectors are all expected to continue hiring new employees in the next year.
Here's a look at where the jobs are now:
Internet: The big Web players are back. Companies that create Web content, hit hard by the 2000 crash, created 2,000 net new jobs in the year ended February 2004. One reason is the strong hiring trends at large Silicon Valley employers like eBay Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., said Doug Henton, president of Collaborative Economics, a consulting firm in Mountain View, Calif.
Yahoo plans to continue its steady work-force expansion. In the past year, the company hired about 800 workers in fields ranging from product management to software engineering.
This year, said Libby Sartain, Yahoo's senior vice president of human resources, it could add more. And thanks in part to the return of Internet advertising and the growth of online commerce, other large employers -- Seattle's Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. -- also are hiring.
eBay has added about 250 employees in the past 10 weeks and estimates it will hire 1,000 more by the end of 2004.
Securities: Wall Street is hiring again, big-time, thanks to the stock-market turnaround of the past few months. Areas that experienced significant cutbacks in past years, such as mergers and acquisitions, equities and corporate finance, are among the chief beneficiaries.
Much of the gains are because of investment banks "playing catch-up" after laying off workers and consolidating their businesses when the Internet bubble burst in 2000, said Gary Goldstein, president of Whitney Group LLC, a financial-services headhunting firm in New York.
On average, his clients in the securities industry are looking to increase head count by about 20 percent.
Health care: In the year ended February 2004, physicians' offices hired an additional 45,000 employees, outpatient care centers grew by 9,000 workers, and hospitals added 58,600 people. The hiring is in part because of greater patient traffic, driven by active, health-obsessed boomers.
Health-care facilities -- like Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., for instance -- keep expanding. The private hospital added 52 staff positions three years ago, half of them nurses.
Vice President Bill Powanda said about 15 of those nursing positions were vacant. He's also seeking to fill jobs from ultrasound technician to physical therapist.
Real estate: In 2003, more houses in the United States were bought and sold than ever before, said Steve Cook of the National Association of Realtors in Chicago. His trade group, he said, grew in membership by about 12 percent in the past year.
"There has been an exceptional boom for real estate and for jobs, too," Cook said.
According to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by Economy.com, architectural and engineering services grew by 6,900 jobs, while real-estate employment -- including brokers and agents -- grew by 24,000 jobs. One reason for the jump in the latter category is the huge numbers of laid-off workers in other job areas who turned to jobs in real estate as a second career.
Education: Teaching and other education-related careers also attract job-changers, but there's a difference: The need here is much likelier to be long term.
Due in part to the large number of teachers who now are retiring, combined with increasing student enrollments, there are lots of job openings, particularly in areas like math, science and special education -- and especially in urban and rural districts.
Kelly Herndon, director of recruitment for the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Lawrenceville, Ga., said that despite state budget cuts, the district is still looking to hire 1,000 teachers for the fall.
Regions: Job hunters can often boost their chances substantially if they're willing to relocate. Areas of Southern California, such as Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, are creating thousands of additional jobs each month.
"We think of the California economy as not being very strong," said Steve Cochrane, an economist at Economy.com. "But when you divide the state between north and south, it's like two separate economies."
And then, there's Las Vegas, which has been one of the fastest-growing parts of the country for the past decade. While the United States lost more than a half-million jobs over the year ended June 2003, Clark County, Nev., gained 26,500. One economist projects an employment growth rate of 20 percent over the next five years.
The growth isn't only coming in low-paying jobs in restaurants and casinos, but in technical fields as well. Five more hospitals are being planned in Clark County, whose significant health-care industry is drawing a wide range of pharmaceutical and research companies.
"You're going to see a real health-care boom here," said Somer Hollingsworth, president of the Nevada Development Authority in Las Vegas. He added that retail employment in the county grew by 6,000 jobs in the past year.
In Northern Virginia, Loudoun County boasted the nation's largest percentage increase in employment over the year ended June 2003, at 5.2 percent. That growth rate results in part from the large number of small defense subcontractors in the county that benefited from the growth in business fueled by national security spending and the war in Iraq.
NLX Corp. of Sterling, Va., a unit of aircraft communication and navigation equipment supplier Rockwell Collins Inc., currently has about 50 openings, ranging from engineering to administrative jobs, said Division President Tony Syme.
In southwest Florida's Lee County, jobs grew by almost 9,000, an increase of 4.6 percent, over the period. Credit a number of companies that have relocated to the region, drawn by the low cost of doing business, inexpensive housing and the absence of a state income tax.
Source Interlink Cos., a magazine distributor with 21 offices nationwide, decided to consolidate and move its base to Bonita Springs, Fla., almost two years ago. The company was drawn by the quality of life, affordability and the region's tech-savvy labor pool.
After just one job fair, company president Jim Gillis said he staffed half of his office headquarters. The headquarters has grown to 400 workers, from only 40 when it opened in July 2002.