Think About the Cable Guy's Job, Donald

(Bloomberg View) -- President Donald Trump talks a lot about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. Judging from the latest employment data, he should be more concerned about department-store workers and the cable guy.

Overall, the jobs report for July showed employers still very much in hiring mode. They added an estimated 209,000 jobs, bringing the three-month average to 195,000 -- more than enough to provide work for a growing population. The unemployment rate declined slightly to 4.3 percent, suggesting that the economy is running at close to full capacity.

Yet down at the level of individual sectors, there are always pockets of vulnerability as global competition and technological innovation render some jobs obsolete or unnecessary. This is the kind of disruptive change that can sideline workers or require them to make difficult adjustments, creating a sense of unease even as the broader job market performs well.

So where are the biggest areas of vulnerability? To approach an answer, I divided the economy into about 350 small sectors -- ranging from boat building to insurance claims adjusting. I then ranked them by the number of jobs lost from June 2016 through June 2017 (the most recent month for which this level of detail is available). Here are the top 10:

Think About the Cable Guy's Job, Donald

Manufacturing sectors -- the kind Trump featured last month during Made in America Week -- are completely absent. It's hard for makers and metal-bashers to dominate job losses (or gains) as they have in the past, because they just don’t employ that many people anymore. All told, goods-producing industries employ 20 million people, compared with more than 100 million for private service providers.

The biggest job losers were mostly in retail, prolonging a trend that most likely reflects the migration of customers to the internet. Department stores, which employ about 1.3 million people, eliminated 24,000 jobs, followed by electronics stores with about 21,000. Separately, wired telecommunications carriers lost almost 25,000, probably thanks to cable-cutting and the gradual demise of the landline. Among services subsectors that shed jobs, total losses amounted to almost 340,000, compared with just 92,500 for goods producers. Although changing vocations might be easier for a sales clerk than for a coal miner, that's still a lot of people who have to find somewhere to go.

As Bloomberg View has noted, the advent of artificial intelligence could bring a lot more disruption to services industries in coming decades. If Trump and his successors want to keep Americans in jobs, they'll have to do more to help the country's workforce meet the challenge.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Mark Whitehouse writes editorials on global economics and finance for Bloomberg View. He covered economics for the Wall Street Journal and served as deputy bureau chief in London. He was previously the founding managing editor of Vedomosti, a Russian-language business daily.

  1. The sectors are close to the smallest tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, selected to avoid overlap and maintain a roughly consistent level of detail.

To contact the author of this story: Mark Whitehouse at mwhitehouse1@bloomberg.net.

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