If you've been paying close attention to the economy and you're inclined to look on the bright side, well, finally there is one.
As President Obama has been eager to point out, the private sector has been adding jobs for several months in a row. It's still way too early to declare the return of prosperity, since nearly 15 million Americans remain unemployed and some key industries are still mired in recession. But the good news is finally starting to outweigh the bad, and economists hope that a virtuous cycle will soon replace a culture of gloom: Gradual hiring eventually makes consumers more optimistic, and as they spend more, business confidence grows as well. If that happens, companies are likely to keep on hiring.
Everybody wants to know where the jobs are, of course, so I analyzed data from the Department of Labor on employment levels in dozens of industries over the last three years. In most industries, the trend is similar: Job losses have stopped, but hiring hasn't really picked up. So I looked for industries that have shown a notable increase in jobs over the last year.
In most of these fields, total employment is still far below the levels at the end of 2007, when the recession began. That illustrates how far we need to go until the economy is truly healthy again. But a recovery has to start somewhere, and these industries are the first to feel a hint of optimism. Here are 20 fields where jobs are starting to return:
Admin and support. It might be just one hire here and another there, but companies are finally starting to rebuild their office staffs. As corporate bosses gain more confidence in the recovery, they'll shift from temporary hires to more full-time staffers.
Jobs gained in 2010: 286,000
Change since 2007: 817,000 jobs lost
Employment services. The people who help others get jobs are finding more work themselves, a good sign that overall hiring is picking up for real. Demand for temporary workers usually comes first, followed by more interest in permanent full-timers.
Jobs gained in 2010: 262,000
Change since 2007: 591,000 jobs lost
Healthcare. There was barely a recession in healthcare—employment has been rising consistently in almost every specialty. This is one of the few fields in which there are more jobs today than before the recession began. A lot more, in fact.
Jobs gained in 2010: 204,000
Change since 2007: 738,000 jobs gained
Restaurants. Boy did we miss those restaurant fries. After a sharp cutback in 2009, Americans have started eating out again. Some luxury joints are still struggling, but family restaurants that offer good value are starting to get busy.
Jobs gained in 2010: 143,000
Change since 2007: 150,000 jobs lost
Retail. Consumers are still feeling thrifty, mainly because debt levels remain too high. But people are starting to spend again, and many retail outlets are hiring. The strongest gains are at electronics and appliance stores. Department stores, discounters, and clothing retailers are hiring, too.
Jobs gained in 2010: 128,000
Change since 2007: 1.1 million jobs lost
Mining. The growing demand by China and India for copper, aluminum, iron, and a variety of other minerals is helping boost the mining industry worldwide. So is a spike in the price of gold and silver. And domestic demand for coal is bouncing back as the economy recovers.
Jobs gained in 2010: 79,000
Change since 2007: 28,000 jobs gained
Religious and nonprofit groups. Donations dipped during the recession, but religious, nonprofit, social, and business organizations have fared okay lately as endowments linked to the stock market have recovered and other sources of funding have stabilized. Clergy—a somewhat recessionproof calling—represent the single largest profession within this group.
Jobs gained in 2010: 56,000
Change since 2007: 9,000 jobs gained
Salespeople and customer-service reps. What companies need most right now is new business, and that takes good salespeople. Plus, during the recession, some companies cut too deeply into the ranks of those who take care of customers. They're beginning to rectify that now.
Jobs gained in 2010: 36,000
Change since 2007: 437,000 jobs lost
Computer systems design. A lot of lower-end IT work has been outsourced to India, but companies still need talented systems designers and other well-trained technicians to develop customized software, keep up with new technology, and connect far-flung systems. This is likely to be one of the fastest-growing job markets over the next several years.
Jobs gained in 2010: 43,000
Change since 2007: 52,000 jobs gained
Transit and ground transportation. Bus drivers have enviable job security. As Americans have cut back on driving to save money, more people have turned to public transportation. The number of bus, subway, and other transit jobs is up overall since the recession began.
Jobs gained in 2010: 20,000
Change since 2007: 17,000 jobs gained
Hotels. Business travel is picking up after a sharp drop, and some consumers are taking vacations again, too. Budget and value properties are hiring the most.
Jobs gained in 2010: 27,000
Change since 2007: 124,000 jobs lost
Federal government. State and local governments have been cutting deeply, but federal jobs are safe—for now. Newly empowered Republicans who want to cut government could change that, however.
Jobs gained in 2010: 19,000
Change since 2007: 88,000 jobs gained
Management. Big companies cut thousands of management jobs when the recession hit—and some of them went too far. So they're slowly starting to rehire. With some foreign economies growing faster than ours, multinational companies are looking for managers willing to travel and perhaps even relocate overseas.
Jobs gained in 2010: 16,000
Change since 2007: 63,000 jobs lost
Performing arts and recreation. As Americans have cut back on lavish travel and long vacations, they've spent more time and money exploring local parks and attractions and even going to sporting events. Plus, people who have been scrimping and saving just need a night out every now and then.
Jobs gained in 2010: 24,000
Change since 2007: 96,000 jobs lost
Warehousing. It's good news for the overall economy when activity at warehouses, refrigeration facilities, and other storage areas picks up, which it has. The goods that pass through those places end up at business and retail outlets, boosting jobs elsewhere.
Jobs gained in 2010: 12,000
Change since 2007: 30,000 jobs lost
Oil and gas extraction. The energy sector dipped during the recession, as consumers and businesses cut back on use. But global demand for energy remains strong, and natural gas in particular looks like a booming industry. Jobs in this field tend to be high-paying, with a need for specialists like petroleum engineers, geologists, and hydrologists.
Jobs gained in 2010: 11,000
Change since 2007: 17,000 jobs gained
Rail transportation. Like warehousing, the railroad industry is a good gauge of which direction the overall economy is headed, since much of what we buy gets shipped by rail at some point. The train seems to be picking up steam.
Jobs gained in 2010: 9,000
Change since 2007: 9,000 jobs lost
Waste management. The trash needs to go out no matter what's happening in the economy. And as the economy recovers, we seem to be producing more of it.
Jobs gained in 2010: 8,000
Change since 2007: 3,000 jobs lost
Web portals and Internet publishing. It's killing other industries, but the Internet itself is still a booming industry that's creating jobs. The overall number of jobs at search engines like Google, portals like Yahoo, and a variety of new and growing online outfits has risen consistently over the last three years.
Jobs gained in 2010: 6,000
Change since 2007: 11,000 jobs gained
Management and technical consulting. A lot of laid-off managers and other professionals have become self-employed consultants—a trend that's likely to continue. Many companies want to hire seasoned people on a temporary or project basis, instead of bringing them on full-time. Consultants able to manage several clients at once can earn more than they did with a single employer.
Jobs gained in 2010: 2,000
Change since 2007: 1,000 jobs gained