Many of us have seen the sad news stories and documentaries about joblessness, layoffs, mass firings, and other forms of job loss that began cropping up right after the economy fell into a fiery abyss in 2008. So many of the people who were focused on in these documentaries and news stories were people in white-collar positions. It didn't diminish their loss, but to many in lower-level positions and those working minimum wage jobs, seeing people with large savings accounts to cushion their fall made the loss of their white collar career seem far less perilous.
Many of these white-collar workers stayed out of work for more than two years. Some of them have stayed out of work for so long they are no longer considered unemployed, they are considered "not employed" which is very different and creates a different result in how we quantify the unemployment rate. But joblessness rates are lower, less and less people are signing up for benefits, slowly but surely.
Perhaps the biggest, or at least one of the top three reasons things are looking up has to do with how well things are going in factory labor and construction work. Both of these business sectors have been on a surge in the past two years, and many factories are even finding themselves expanding, hiring more people, and many economists suggest job positions in factories has been a huge part of how we have dug ourselves out of the darkest economic void our generation has ever witnessed. The last two weeks of 2013 saw declines in unemployment claims. It’s not a molehill we can make into a mountain yet, but it’s a great foundation on which to build a new year. Interestingly, manufacturing itself, i.e. the use of factories and the need for construction, are literally the core of that foundation.
Those who paid for an expensive education and who work in industries like finance professionals, IT pros and software engineers, airline personnel, including pilots, and the obvious: real estate agents and offshoot industries there, such as interior design, architecture, all suffered greatly in the wake of the 2008 meltdown. But it wasn't until that meltdown hit that "skilled labor" and "blue collar" were no longer taboo words. With those kinds of jobs falling into the mainstream middle and upper-middle class conversation, and when people in these demographics started to do their homework and find out how much money these positions paid (generally far more than they are stereotyped to) a whole new group of people suddenly had an interest in learning a trade. For those who didn't, the emergence of the popularity of high paying manufacturing jobs in the private sector saw a whole new group of lower wage income earners taking an interest in trades, with the end result a still burgeoning but refreshingly enduring middle class.
Industrial production is clearly up, and is therefore in need of more skilled laborersâ€”these aren’t people who simply earn a “decent” wageâ€”they earn enough to put many of them in the upper middle class, and they also usually have tremendous benefits, including excellent medical, vision, and dental insurance plans, as well as maternity leave benefits, paid vacation, and 401(k) matching.
As we enter a new year, more tradesmen and women will be needed. The manufacturing and construction sectors were at one time feared to be the industries that may never turn around again. But here they are, at the top of the list of reasons as to why we now, again, have a robust economy, complete with rising numbers on job reports, private sector growth and rising industrial production, and even a nod of approval from nearly all economists.