Commentators have poured a lot of ink over the last few years picking apart who is suffering, and who isn't. It was men, then it was women. It was everyone, then it was the 99 percent (or rather, the 80 percent). It is young Americans, black Americans, brown Americans and Americans with only a high school education. But one thing is clear: Certain industries were crushed, and are still hurting bad, while others have pretty much recovered.
The story is an old one now. The housing market was a safe bet in the misty days of the mid-2000s. So safe that lenders gave out risky mortgages, which eventually all collapsed in a stinking heap. Today, all those industries that thrived on the cheap credit of the Bush boom -- real estate, finance, manufacturing, and state and local government -- are still bleak. They've stopped shedding masses of jobs, but they aren't gaining much, if any.
Every other industry, on the other hand, is almost back to pre-crisis levels of job growth, according to a Credit Suisse analysis of government data. The "non-impaired sectors" are chugging along at almost 2 percent year-on-year growth, a far cry from the grim 3 percent year-on-year contraction they bottomed out at in 2009.
The jobs' report, released by the government last Friday, showed an encouraging picture. About 200,000 jobs were created in December, and the unemployment rate slipped to 8.5 percent. The country is recovering, and many people are feeling it. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has fallen to levels we haven't seen in over three years.
But more than ever, we can see the structural issues that lie beneath America's economic travails. Several industries were coasting unsustainably before the recession, and may never return to their former glory. For example, the government predicts just 1.7 percent annual growth in the construction industry by 2018, while manufacturing is expected to decline even further.
Unfortunately, those shattered sectors were very big sectors, and pillars of our country's middle class. But in all the studies of who is struggling and who isn't in America today, one thing has remained clear: Higher education can increase job security. The unemployment rate for those with bachelor's degrees is just 5 percent, according to a recent study by researchers at Georgetown University, and an impressive 3 percent for those who have completed graduate school.
Analysts love slicing America into pieces: by age, by color, by geography. But the real gap we will see in the coming years is between those with the skills to work in the nearly-recovered and fast-expanding service sector, and those without them.
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