7 Industries Increase Number of Jobs in December including Professional & Business Services, Retail Trade, Construction, and Transportation in Bleak Jobs Report

Total nonfarm payroll employment was down by 140,000 in December per the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earlier in the week, payroll processor ADP reported that U.S. private businesses had lost 123,000 jobs in December.

Nevertheless, there was job growth in several vital industry groups.

Per the BLS, employment in professional and business services grew by 161,000, with an impressive gain of 68,000 for temporary help services. Activity was strong with an increase of 20,000 for computer systems design and related services. Since February, employment in professional and business services is down by 858,000.

Retail trade was up by 121,000 jobs in December, 59,000 of those jobs for general merchandise stores, including warehouse clubs and supercenters. Employment in retail trade is down by 411,000 since February.

Construction was up by 51,000 jobs in December with an increase of 14,000 for residential specialty trade contractors, 9,000 for residential building (note: these last two categories have gained by all the jobs lost in March and April). 18,000 for nonresidential specialty trade contractors, 15,000 for heavy and civil engineering construction. Overall, construction is still 226,000 jobs below its February level.

Employment in transportation and warehousing was up by 47,000 in December, with 37,000 new jobs for couriers and messengers. While employment for transportation and warehousing is down by 89,000 jobs from February, employment for couriers/messengers is up by 22,000. There were 8,000 new jobs for warehousing and storage in December and 7,000 for truck transportation.

Due to COVID-19, 23.7% of employed persons teleworked or worked at home in December, up from 21.8% in November. 15.8 million persons reported that they had been unable to work at all or worked fewer hours because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic, 1.0 million higher than November. Among those who reported in December that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 12.8% received at least some pay from their employer for hours not worked, little changed from November.

The pandemic prevented 4.6 million people from looking for work in December. This measure is up from 3.9 million in November. In December, the 6.7% unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons at 10.7 million were the same as in November. Though both measures are lower than April, they are about twice the pre-COVID pandemic levels. The labor force participation rate was unchanged over the month at 61.5%.

Take a look at the infographic below for more info on the December job market.


Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said, “…this is still very much a low-wage recession, and the losses were where we first saw them when the pandemic hit.”

Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist, said, “Today’s report is a harsh reminder that the pandemic controls our economic trajectory. Though the end-of-year relief bill offered temporary reprieve and the start of vaccine distribution offers light at the end of the tunnel, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for US SPDR Business, said, “In some ways, bad news is good news, because it increases the probability for more stimulus.”

Leslie Preston, senior economist at TD Bank, said, “Hopefully it is indeed darkest before the dawn. We’ve got the vaccine and the stimulus, which are imminent, and which we do expect to turn things around.”

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said, “I think the Biden administration will prioritize the labor market and I think they have a partner in Congress now that has the same priority.”

Ludovic Subran, chief economist at Allianz SE, recommends, “You need to bring some of the people that used to work in the service industry into other sectors. I would advocate for a Democratic administration to really go ‘Marshall Plan’ on learning, upskilling, intermediation, requalification.”

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Mike Temkin

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