"Bright Spot in Downturn: New Hiring Is Robust
Everyone knows the grim news — unemployment in the United States has jumped to 8.5 percent, a 25-year high, and is racing toward double digits. Since November, the nation has lost more than three million jobs.
But not everyone knows the brighter side to the equation: deep in the maw of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, millions are still being hired.
So, while 4.8 million workers were laid off or chose to leave their jobs in February, employers across the country hired 4.3 million workers that month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is to release job new figures on Friday, numbers that should give a much clearer picture of whether these bright spots in the job market are strong enough to help pull the nation out of a recession.
“The best thing you can say about these numbers is it speaks to the dynamism of the U.S. economy, and the net negative number that we all traffic in masks that,” said Robert J. Barbera, chief economist at ITG, a research and trading firm. “Ninety out of 100 people who know the number — 650,000 were lost in February — think that means no one was hired and 650,000 were fired.”
In February — before the economy started to show the first faint signs of a possible recovery — there were three million job openings nationwide. And while Friday's job figures may show large new job losses, there are still millions of job openings.
Who is hiring? Hospitals, colleges, discount stores, restaurants and municipal public works departments. I.B.M. is hiring more than 700 people for its new technical services center in Dubuque, Iowa, while the Cleveland Clinic has 500 job openings, not just for nurses but also for pharmacy aides and physical therapists. And after President Obama’s stimulus package kicks into gear, state, local governments and road-building contractors are expected to increase hiring.
Zachary Schaefer has hired 72 people since February for the Culver’s hamburger and frozen custard restaurant that he and several partners just opened in Surprise, Ariz.
“The amount of applicants who are qualified is definitely up,” compared with previous hiring efforts, he said. “Whereas before we were counting on a lot of high school applicants, now there are a lot more middle-age people applying.”
Eddie Hamm, a former construction worker, was unemployed for five months when he drove by the site where the Culver’s was under construction. Mr. Hamm, 29, applied for a job there, and now he’s a “fry guy.”
“I’m just happy I got hired — I didn’t want to stay home, not doing anything,” he said, hardly complaining that he is earning half the $15 an hour he made in construction. “I don’t look at it like I’m making $7.50. I look at it — I’m having a job in a down time, and it’s a job where I can move up.”
Economists and job counselors advise the unemployed that there are definitely jobs to be had, even if there aren’t nearly enough to go around. With 13.2 million people out of work, there are 4 1/3 unemployed Americans for every job opening. “You’re facing more competition for every job you apply for, but the reality is there is a lot of hiring going on,” said Andrew M. Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “You’re never going to find anything unless you apply.”
Even industries that have taken a beating are doing plenty of hiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction companies hired 366,000 workers in February, and manufacturers hired 249,000. Retailers hired 536,000 workers in February, but that was down 25 percent from the previous February.
Some job openings are to replace retirees, some to replace employees who left for other jobs, but many openings result from expansion. Companies that are still growing are blessed with talented applicants.
“It’s easier to hire in a recession — we have about five applications for every position,” said Howard Glickberg, principal owner of Fairway Market, the well-known grocery company based in Manhattan.
Fairway just hired 350 people for its month-old store in Paramus, N.J., the first Fairway outside of New York State. The company plans to add 1,200 more workers over the next two years by opening stores in Queens; Pelham Manor, N.Y.; and Stamford, Conn.
“What you have to be afraid of is hiring someone who can’t find something better at the time, and when they find something better they leave you,” Mr. Glickberg said. “I want to hire someone who will make a career of it.”
The nation’s largest private-sector employer, Wal-Mart Stores, is also hiring aplenty. Wal-Mart, with 1.4 million workers nationwide, hires several hundred thousand workers each year because of employee turnover, and expects to increase its domestic work force by nearly 50,000 this year, thanks to plans to open 150 new stores.
Shawnalyn Conner is running a hiring center for a Wal-Mart store that will open on June 17 in Weaverville, N.C., near Asheville. She plans to hire 350 workers.
“The biggest comment that we get from people is that they’re looking for a company that’s growing, and Wal-Mart offers that,” said Ms. Conner, who, as the top manager of the new store, has hired 77 people so far. Gisel Ruiz, senior vice president for the people division of Wal-Mart U.S., said the company had a hiring program for former junior military officers, often for jobs as assistant store managers. With many veterans having a hard time landing jobs, Wal-Mart hired 150 former officers last year.
The health care industry has held its own in hiring. The University of Miami medical school, which runs three hospitals, has 250 openings and is hiring about 35 people a month, compared with 100 a month in good times. Cleveland Clinic has 500 job openings, compared with 2,000 during better times.
“We have a hiring freeze on, but even when there’s a hiring freeze, we need to maintain our head count,” said Joe Patrnchak , Cleveland Clinic’s chief human resources officer. “We have 40,000 people, and you’re going to have some openings.”
He is encountering an unusual snag in hiring people. “A challenge we have now is people from other areas are having problems selling their homes,” Mr. Patrnchak said. “People aren’t quite as mobile nowadays.”
The University of Miami medical school is also facing an unexpected problem. “There’s a flood of applicants, but even so, it’s harder to find really good, experienced people,” said Paul Hudgins, its associate vice president for medical human resources. “We’re seeing people hunkering down and saying they’re going to stay where they are.”
The recession has encouraged people to cling to their jobs. Just 1.5 percent of workers voluntarily quit their jobs in February, the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting those numbers eight years ago.
Like many educational institutions, Washington University in St. Louis continues to hire. It has 175 job openings in admissions, residential life and other areas. There is a flood of job applicants, and Ann Prenatt, vice chancellor for human resources, said that has pros and cons, the advantage being that the university does not have to offer large premiums as often to draw coveted applicants.
As for the disadvantage, Ms. Prenatt said: “People are applying for many positions in the hope that something will stick even though they don’t remotely meet the minimum qualifications. That can be very frustrating for the applicant, but it also creates a logjam for us.”