Since the Great Recession, jobs and wages in Maryland have grown and unemployment has declined, most recently to 4 percent in July. But the state’s labor market also has been transformed during the recovery.
A slowdown in manufacturing and construction has caused significant job losses in those sectors, while service-oriented and health-related jobs increased.
More lower-wage than middle-wage jobs are being created. And employers are struggling to fill vacancies requiring specialized skills and increasingly turning to automation.
“The recovery has been OK and created all these jobs, but the types of jobs haven’t been what they were prior to the recession,” said Daraius Irani, an economist who is vice president of Towson University’s division of innovation and applied research. “The number of jobs with low wages created post-recession far exceeds the number in middle-income that were created,” reflecting layoffs where jobs have not returned.
A look at job and wage growth in some key occupation groups offers a glimpse at how the state’s labor market has changed since 2008.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University shows occupations with the strongest growth since the recession include jobs in personal care and services — such as at salons and casinos — and in computer, math and legal fields. Health care and business and financial operations fill out the top five occupation groups that have gained jobs during the recovery. The data compares 2008, when the recession struck, with 2016.
“This has been a consumer-oriented recovery,” said economist Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group. “A lot of the jobs have been about a consumer spending-led recovery.”
That has boosted demand in areas such as home health care as the population has aged, retail and other service-oriented jobs. In Maryland, the addition of thousands of jobs at new casinos has boosted employment in that sector.
The labor market “has changed dramatically, if nothing else based on the demand for skilled talent and the availability of it,” said Joe Gonzales, regional vice president of staffing firm Robert Half in Baltimore. “In the recession, companies that we worked with cut deeper than they ever did into their staffs. As business has gotten better, we’re seeing a focus on adding to and upgrading staffs.
“What we’ve seen in the last two years… is just how competitive the market has become for specialized candidates, especially in the specialized space for accounting, information technology and finance,” Gonzales said.
Since 2008, robust wage growth has not necessarily followed in the fields with the biggest jumps in job gains.
Average wages jumped the most — more than 30 percent, to $34,670 — in farming, fishing and forestry occupations, the statistics show, likely reflecting, Irani said, more high-skilled jobs in those occupations. Those fields, however, also saw one of the largest decreases in the number of jobs — falling more than 11 percent.
And while the number of jobs for health practitioners and technicians jumped more than 20 percent, wages grew at a slower rate, by nearly 9 percent, possibly reflecting a higher average wage compared with other occupations and growing pressure to keep health care spending in check.
Wages in occupations that require advanced degrees jumped nearly 17 percent between 2008 and 2016 to $104,024, according to the RESI data. Wages in industries that might require a GED or high school diploma rose just less than 12 percent, to $38,468.
Middle-income jobs have seen the slowest wage growth, Irani said.
“Those jobs were hammered the most during the recession and those jobs haven’t recovered as much,” he said.
Job losses piled up the most in industries such as production, construction, farming/fishing and the sector that includes arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, a result both of layoffs and more automation. Though the construction sector has added jobs more recently, levels of building, new homes for instance, haven’t returned to pre-recession levels.
Irani expects the trend toward automation to continue as companies that can’t find workers strive to become more efficient. That’s happening at businesses such as Amazon, which is using more automated systems in distribution centers, at retailers, fast food operators and even on construction sites.
“Work force shortages will drive firms to figure out how to do things without workers,” Irani said.
Maryland’s labor market reflects the national labor market, with low unemployment, yet high numbers of job openings as employers struggle to find workers with the right skills in areas such as construction, trucking, accounting and health care, Basu said.
Maryland has added 50,000 jobs over the past 12 months, but has lower-than-normal participation levels in the labor force, including those who are employed and those who are unemployed and seeking work.
“What employers are looking for in many instances is someone who can learn [on the job] and someone who can be committed to the organization’s mission,” Basu said.
He sees increasingly a mismatch of skills, with too few jobs that require a college degree for all of the students who graduate each year.
As competition for workers has intensified, so has the pace of hiring, Gonzales said.
“You have to move a lot faster to get the best candidates,” Gonzales said. “Candidates are entertaining more offers than they had in the past, and they have the ability to be more selective.”