Are You Worried About the Future of the U.S. Job Market?

The U.S. job market has improved since the unemployment rate's 10.1% high in 2009, but the sluggish pace of economic recovery has kept many workers jobless and discouraged.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported earlier this month that the country's unemployment rate in April rose to 9.0% from 8.8%. Employment in more than a dozen sectors hit four-year lows in April, and another 10 have gained little since hitting lows in the beginning of this year.

But it's not just a slow economic recovery that is leaving people unemployed. The U.S. job market is changing, as companies find ways to function with fewer workers and some shift operations overseas.

[mm-toolbar]More than 13 million people are searching for work, and even though U.S. companies have collected about $940 billion since the credit crisis, many aren't hiring.

Most prefer to spend in other ways, creating a wide gap between capital spending and employment. Corporate investment will climb 11% this year while employment only rises 1.7%, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report.

The report states inventory rebuilding, low borrowing costs, and tax breaks for equipment buying are encouraging companies to spend, not hire.

And some that are adding workers have turned to temporary staffing for flexibility in employment.

"This is the new face of labor," Neil Alexander, from the labor law firm Littler Mendelson, told MarketWatch. "We have large clients that have laid off hundreds, thousands of employees. They are now using a large chunk of temp workers, managing their labor needs in real time. It's cost containment."

Another factor to high unemployment is that the U.S. job market is changing its structure and needs. Even as U.S. manufacturing has started to pick up in recent months, jobs in that sector have not followed suit because companies are using newer technology that allows them to get done the same amount of work or more without hiring as many people.

Manufacturers of nondurable goods lost about 600,000 jobs during the recession and have only brought back about 20,000 of those positions since January of this year.

"Those jobs are not likely to come back," Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, told CNNMoney. "Those plants are so automated, you have to increase output an awful lot to create very many jobs."

Many companies are also hunting for new employees overseas, shifting their workforce away from the United States to be more globally balanced.

Software maker Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) both added about twice as many workers overseas over the past five years as they have in the United States. General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) now has about 54% of its workforce abroad.

A big reason for the shift is growing demand for products and services in emerging markets.

"It's time to own up to the fact that the United States is no longer the world's growth engine," said Money Morning Contributing Editor Shah Gilani. "Developing countries and economies have now assumed that mantle. There's still demand for U.S. goods and services overseas, but it's a lot more efficient to manufacture in those markets where you are selling products."

Now some analysts wonder if the United States has lost its appeal as a place for multinationals to invest in employment.

"It's definitely something to worry about," economist Matthew Slaughter told The Wall Street Journal.

This brings us to next week's Money Morning "Question of the Week": Are you worried about the future of the U.S. job market? Is increased efficiency and a shift to hiring abroad going to leave many without work, or will industries rebound in the United States? Are you worried about your employment future? What can be done to improve the U.S. job market?

[Editor's Note: Is there a topic you want to see covered as a "Question of the Week" feature? Then let us know by e-mailing Money Morning at [email protected]. Make sure to reference "Question of the Week suggestion" in the subject line.

We reserve the right to edit responses for length, grammar and clarity.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate - via e-mail or by posting their comments directly on the Money Morning Web site.]

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