One big reason the recovery is so weak is that key parts of the economy still aren't recovering at all. In fact, many of them may be in permanent decline. To identify the weakest parts of the economy, I scoured data from the Department of Labor on employment levels in dozens of industries over the last three years. The 12 biggest laggards combined have lost about 550,000 jobs this year, and about 3.2 million jobs since the recession began. For most people who work in those industries, it probably still feels like a recession.
Since many of those lost jobs will never return, unemployed workers in those fields must undergo the long process of finding new lines of work, building new skills, and perhaps even moving to places where there are more jobs in healthy industries. How long that takes will determine how long it is until the overall economy is truly robust once again. Meanwhile, here are 12 industries where jobs are still disappearing:
State and local government. The big 2009 stimulus bill sent a lot of money to states and cities, forestalling a deeper fiscal crisis. But that money is running out and tax revenues are still down. That means big cuts in state and local governments—and next year could be worse.
Jobs lost in 2010: 260,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 225,000
Construction. The housing bust still hasn't ended, with home prices continuing to fall. With a glut of homes, it makes little sense for most builders to start constructing new ones. Commercial real estate is in slightly better shape, but the whole industry is likely to struggle for years.
Jobs lost in 2010: 71,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 1.9 million
Insurance. Profits at insurance companies are closely tied to the financial markets, which remain far below the peaks of 2007. So many companies continue to cut costs, and staff. Consumers and businesses are also saving money by buying less insurance, which means less business overall.
Jobs lost in 2010: 47,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 143,000
Telecom. The wireless and Internet business is strong, but some thrifty consumers are cutting back on cable TV, and many homes don't even have landline service any more. And lots of competition is forcing telecom firms to slash costs and payrolls.
Jobs lost in 2010: 40,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 116,000
Accounting and bookkeeping. Some business services are bouncing back, as companies start to feel better about the economy and ramp up staffing. But accountants and financial analysts in general continue to suffer from corporate cutbacks and a lack of new business. Those with tax expertise could fare better than average, especially if Washington starts to fiddle with the tax code.
Jobs lost in 2010: 37,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 86,000
Real estate. The housing bust persists, and the market for commercial properties like malls, office buildings, and apartment complexes is hardly better. A rebound in real estate usually helps end a recession, but this time, it's likely to lag a broader recovery.
Jobs lost in 2010: 24,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 113,000
Printing and traditional publishing. It's good news for trees, but the market for newspapers, periodicals, books, and many other things once printed on paper seems to be on a long-term downslope, regardless of the recession or recovery. It's a lot cheaper to publish much of that material electronically, which saves money for companies able to make the switch. But jobs are disappearing all the same.
Jobs lost in 2010: 22,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 260,000
U.S. Postal Service. It's still pretty cheap to mail a letter—which is a big problem for the postal service. Unlike ordinary firms, the USPS needs special approval to raise prices, close underperforming locations, or cut back on service. With onerous constraints like those, the postal service has had little choice but to reduce staff, mostly through attrition.
Jobs lost in 2010: 19,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 137,000
Chemicals. Many manufacturing industries have stabilized, but this industry continues to shrink, as the production of paint, resins, synthetics, agricultural products, and other chemical compounds shifts to other countries with lower labor costs and looser regulations.
Jobs lost in 2010: 15,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 82,000
Drugstores. Many of their products—especially healthcare items and staples—are largely recessionproof. The problem for drugstores is that discounters like Wal-Mart, and even some dollar stores, are cutting into their business.
Jobs lost in 2010: 6,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 37,000
Data processing, Web hosting, and related services. The Internet is still booming, but many lower-level IT jobs are being shipped overseas. Workers in this field who want to inoculate themselves from outsourcing need to upgrade their skills and specialize in more complex work, like systems design.
Jobs lost in 2010: 5,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 21,000
Textiles. Yes, there still is a rump textile industry in America, but it continues to shrink, as relatively low-skill jobs migrate to Asia and other places where labor is cheaper. Only about 245,000 Americans still work in this once-huge industry, and that's down about 22 percent from 2007.
Jobs lost in 2010: 4,000
Jobs lost since 2007: 73,000