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Is the financial sector becoming more productive?

The Great Recession adversely affected employment across all industries. Since the recovery began in 2010, employment has rebounded and the unemployment rate started declining. But this recovery in employment has not been uniform across industries.

Employment in the financial sector has steadily declined as a share of total employment since the onset of the Great Recession. The financial sector averaged around 6.2% of total employment in the ten years preceding the Great Recession, from 1997 to 2007; in the recovery period, from 2010 to 2018, it averaged around 5.7%. It’s also interesting, but perhaps not very surprising, to note that the employment share in financial activities increased through the previous two recessions—in 1991 and in the early 2000s—but fell quite a bit during the Great Recession. And while total employment has grown by nearly 14% in the years spanning the recovery, from 2010 to 2018, financial employment has grown by only 11%.

So the question is, if there are fewer employees in the financial sector relative to the 1990s, how is that impacting output? One way to answer this question is by looking at the value added by the financial industry. The red line on the graph represents value added. It is interesting to note that while value added declined during the recession, it recovered shortly thereafter and has been on an upward trend since then. This implies that industry output has not declined because of slower employment growth, which in turn indicates that other factors must be responsible for this apparent increase in the productivity of labor.

How this graph was created: Search for and select the series USFIRE. From the “Edit Graph” panel, select a quarterly frequency and set the aggregation method to “Average.” Then add the series “PAYEMS” to the same graph and set the formula as a*100/b. Click on the “Add Line” option and search for the series “VAPGDPFI.” In the “Format” tab, scroll down to the formatting options for Line 2 and set the y-axis position to “Right.”

Suggested by Asha Bharadwaj and Miguel Faria-e-Castro.

View on FRED, series used in this post: PAYEMS, USFIRE, VAPGDPFI

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