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The largest changes in payroll employment

Comparing April 2020's social distancing and August 1983's AT&T strike

The April 2020 changes in payroll employment are unprecedented in scale, but their nature is familiar.

The FRED graph above shows the monthly percentage change in payroll employment across all service-providing industries since 1939. Although the most recent reduction in leisure and hospitality employment (the red bar on the far right edge of the graph) has been the largest, both in magnitude and in proportion to the size of the industry’s labor force, we can compare it to a somewhat similar event: the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. union workers’ strike of August 1983 (the blue bars at the center of the graph).

Both reductions in employment were orchestrated: In 1983, the labor stoppage was to achieve better working conditions; in 2020, the labor stoppage has been to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flip side of an organized labor stoppage is the organized nature of its recovery. In the case of the striking telephone workers, employment rebounded the following month. Alas, it’s too early to know if or when scaling back social distancing will produce a similar recovery in employment. Check FRED on June 5, 2020, at 8:30 AM (CST) to see the next changes in payroll employment.

How this graph was created: From FRED’s main page, browse data by “Release.” Search for “Employment Situation” and from “Release Tables” click on “Current Employment Statistics (Establishment Data).” From the table, select each of the nine industries in the private service-providing sector and click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line” tab to change the units to “Percent Change” and click “Copy to All.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES4300000001, USEHS, USFIRE, USINFO, USLAH, USPBS, USSERV, USTRADE, USWTRADE

Social distancing and employment loss in leisure and hospitality

The FRED Blog has used the Current Employment Statistics from the Establishment Data Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics before. Past posts cover the ups-and-downs of payroll employment in the information industry and the increasing proportion of women in the workforce.

Today, we use that rich data source to learn more about the reduction in overall payroll employment in March 2020—the first reduction in ten years.

The FRED graph above compares the job losses in the goods-producing industry (mining & lodging; construction; and manufacturing) with the job losses in the service-providing industry (trade, transportation & utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and other services).

The bulk of the recent reduction in payroll employment occurred among service-providing activities; during the onset of the 2007-2009 recession, the largest reductions in payroll employment took place among goods-producing activities.

The social distancing to manage the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the routines of millions of people, and their use of services has changed. The FRED graph below shows the change in employment for service-providing industries. These changes are presented in percentages to let us compare sectors of different size.

The loss of employment in leisure and hospitality has been the largest: They represent almost 3% of the employed workers in the industry and 65% of the overall reduction in payroll employment. Restaurants and bars are either exclusively offering take-out or temporarily shutting down, so some decline was expected.

How these graphs were created: From the FRED home page, browse data by category by clicking on the “Release” category. Search for “Employment Situation” and select “Current Employment Statistics (Establishment Data).” Click on “Table B-1. Employees on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail, Not seasonally adjusted.”

For the first graph, select the following series by clicking the box to the left of their names: Goods-producing; and Private service-providing. Click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, change the units to “Change” and the format to “Bars,” selecting “Stacking > None.”

For the second graph, select the following series by clicking the box to the left of their names: Trade, transportation, and utilities; Information; Financial activities; Professional and business services; Education and health services; Leisure and hospitality; and Other services. Click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, change the units to “Change” and the format to “Bars,” selecting “Stacking > Normal.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES0800000001, USEHS, USFIRE, USGOOD, USINFO, USLAH, USPBS, USSERV, USTPU

The booms, blips, and dips of dot-com, telecom, and cultural transmissions

Employment in the information sector

Some call the past few decades a new industrial revolution, given the dynamic emergence of the information economy. The graph above shows employment in information services, and, indeed, there’s strong growth in the sector, especially up to the dot-com crash in 2000. But since then, the sector doesn’t seem to have expanded its payrolls much. In fact, once you take out the boom, current data seem to follow the previous trend.

Now, the employment classification for information services includes more than just jobs related to the internet. NAICS code 51 encompasses anything related to the diffusion of information. So, it’s also phone companies, movie makers, broadcasting, newspapers, and software. Clearly, some of these sub-sectors have suffered from the rise of the internet economy. Thus, the long trend hides a considerable amount of churn within the sector itself.

Also, notice that there are some downticks. For employment data, this is usually due to strikes. The big downtick in August 1983 is due to a 22-day strike of close to 700,000 workers across the phone industry.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “employment information services.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: USINFO

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