Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How Work Tasks Responded to the Recession

In a recent blog, I crunched some data to see which parts of the nation’s workforce lost the most jobs during the Great Recession and which gained the most during the recovery. I created graphs that looked at the workforce two ways: by occupational group and by industry. This week I think it would be interesting to look at the kinds of work tasks (and, by implication, the kinds of skills) that lost ground or regained it during the recent downturn and upswing.

I created the four graphs below by this method:
  • As in the previous blog, I looked at changes over two pairs of years: 2007 and 2009 for the recession, and 2010 and 2012 for the recovery.
  • I used workforce estimates from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of the BLS.
  • For each occupation, I multiplied the workforce size at each year by the numerical ratings for the 41 generic work tasks in the O*NET database.
  • For each year and for each task, I summed the products for all occupations and summed the workforce sizes of all occupations.
  • For each year and for each task, I divided the sum of products by the sum of workforces to get an overall quotient that indicated the level at which that task was important to the nation’s workforce during that year.
  • For the recession and for the recovery, I computed the percentage change in the overall quotient for each task, thus getting a measure of how much each task became more or less salient during the recession and recovery.

(I suggest you click on each graph to see it in a format that is big enough to read easily.)

This first graph shows the work tasks that lost the most ground during the recession. Based on the types of tasks that appear here, you can see that this downturn really deserved its nickname “the mancession.” These tasks characterize the manufacturing and construction industries, which were among those hardest-hit by the slump. Note how every one of these tasks bounced back during the recovery, but not enough to make up in two years of recovery for the erosion during the two years of recession.

But some types of jobs actually gained workers during the recession, and the second graph shows the work tasks that reflect this. These work tasks, which gained the most ground during the recession, characterize the education, health-care, and government jobs that were not fazed by the downturn. However, half of these tasks proved to be countercyclical—that is, they slid downward while the economy recovered. And even those that showed gains during the recovery did not match the gains they made during recession.

Like the recession, the recovery did not affect all kinds of jobs the same way. Some jobs actually showed a net loss of workers during the recovery, and the work tasks in the following graph are those that lost the most ground during this period. Note that every one of these did quite well during the recession, but they suffered (although not to the same extent) while the economy as a whole rebounded. These tasks characterize bureaucratic and clerical jobs, which have been hurt by government cutbacks and by automation.

The last graph shows the work tasks that gained the most ground during the recovery. Many of these tasks appear as “mancession” victims in the first chart, but two of them characterize white-collar occupations. It’s especially interesting to note the job security indicated by the steady growth of work that involves Selling or Influencing Others.

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