News Column

Laid-off Workers Return to Their Fields

August 27, 2014

By Paul Davidson, @PDavidsonusat, USA TODAY

Laid-off workers, such as those in construction, are returning to their occupations. (file photo)
Laid-off workers, such as those in construction, are returning to their occupations. (file photo)

A growing number of displaced workers are getting jobs in the industries they left -- a hallmark of a strengthening recovery.

Of the roughly 4 million non-farm workers laid off from jobs they held at least three years from 2011 to 2013, 62% were working again by January 2014, says a survey of displaced workers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday. Slightly more than half of those re-employed had jobs in their former fields, up from 47% in January 2012 and 44% in January 2010.

The finding is significant because an unusually large number of Americans who lost jobs during and after the Great Recession had to leave their fields, especially construction and manufacturing workers. Each of those industries lost about 2 million jobs.

Many displaced workers were retrained for other sectors at significant cost, often to the federal government, and had to take positions that paid less than previously. But by January, 62% of re-employed construction workers had been rehired as the housing market began to recover, up from 52% two years earlier.

"It would make sense that firms would go for the most seasoned employees first," says Brian Turmail of Associated General Contractors, a trade group.

Similarly, 55% of re-employed leisure and hospitality workers stayed in the industry, up from 49% two years ago. And 52% of re-employed transport and utilities workers, a category including truck drivers, were rehired in their fields, compared with 39%.

As more displaced workers landed jobs in their industries, a growing portion were also able to avoid sharp wage drops. Slightly more than half of re-employed full-time workers earned as much or more than at prior jobs, up from 46% two years ago. The share losing at least 20% in pay fell to 27% from about a third.

The 62% of displaced workers who landed new jobs by January -- whether in or out of former industries -- represents an increase from the 56% rehired two years earlier and 49% four years ago. About 70% of education and leisure hospitality workers were re-employed, followed by about 68% in construction, 61% in finance, 59% in manufacturing and 58% in the wholesale and retail trade.

Still, although total U.S. payrolls grew 5% from 2011 to 2013, the share of displaced workers finding jobs has lagged other recoveries, says BLS economist James Borbely.

Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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