Stop, Look, and Listen
We here at the Birmingham Branch of the Atlanta Fed talk to a lot of folks about Alabama’s economy. But when I say we talk, what I should say is we stop and listen, and our contacts have plenty to say.
Recent conversations with Alabama contacts do not indicate accelerated hiring levels in our state. Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Fed, was recently in town speaking to the Birmingham Rotary and had this to say about December’s national jobs report:
It came in at a 74,000 net gain. A number closer to 190,000 was expected. My reaction—and that of many of my colleagues—was to "look through" the December jobs report and assume the economy remains on the higher growth track enjoyed in the second half of 2013.
Note: President Lockhart was in Birmingham on Wednesday, February 5, two days before the release of the January jobs data, which were better than December but not as large as hoped. (The economy added 113,000 jobs in January 2014.)
In that context, I took a look at Alabama’s employment numbers and found that job gains have occurred in each of the last three months, with December showing a gain of 4,800 jobs in Alabama (see the chart).
A deeper look at payroll employment in Alabama shows that although leisure and hospitality and education and health care jobs have surpassed prerecession levels, other sectors have not fared as well, particularly the information and construction industries (see the chart).
And though we know that job losses occurred throughout the state, all of Alabama’s metro areas have slowly begun to rebound. The Auburn-Opelika and Tuscaloosa areas—both home to large state universities—have regained the level of jobs that were lost during the recession (see the chart).
Finally, pulling back to take a more historical perspective, the Alabama employment situation, while improving, has not reached prerecession levels (see the chart).
On a bright note, there are definitely some positive hiring stories, most recently in the automotive sector. And although we continue to hear stories of shortages for certain skilled laborers, we also hear about creative ways Alabama employers and educators are partnering to update and align training with the skills that are needed for jobs today and in the future.
The number of jobs regained since the recession ended is only one of many ways to assess the health of the labor market. On a national level, the Atlanta Fed looks at many facets and has developed an interesting (and regularly updated) visual depiction that gives a much broader view: our labor market spider chart.
Meanwhile, here at the Fed, we will continue to supplement our analysis of state and national economic data by listening to what people are telling us about their own experiences.
By Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch
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