Here’s the financial news understatement of the century: It’s a tough job market out there right now. Layoffs have slowed down, but hiring has yet to heat up to a strong enough pace to meet the demand for employment.
A recent look at the ratio of unemployed per job opening shows that the number of applicants still is uncomfortably high. There were 4.6 unemployed people for every job opening in August — up from 4.3 in July — according to recently released Labor Department numbers. The ratio is down from its recession peak of almost 7 but still is pretty ugly and twice the 2008 ratio.
But let’s be honest: A job is not a job, and an applicant is not an applicant. Certain businesses have stabilized or actually are growing — the health care and technology sectors spring to mind — and qualified job seekers with the relevant skills probably don’t feel like it’s all that hard to find work.
Other industries, however, were riding high on the mortgage bubble and saw payrolls gutted after the bubble burst. That means folks looking for jobs in these sectors face fierce competition in an industry that might never get back to its pre-crisis levels.
So what industries are the ugliest? Here are three:
No surprise here, but the financial sector is struggling big time. HSBC (NYSE:HBC) said recently that by 2013 it will cut an additional 25,000 jobs on top of 5,000 HSBC layoffs already on the books this year. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) plans to lay off as many as 30,000.
The brutal outlook for financial stocks is so bad that financial hub New York is preparing for significant tax shortfalls — predicting job cuts on Wall Street alone could total 32,000 for the period from January 2008 to the end of next year. If you’re in finance, the fact is jobs just aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. And with battered share prices, regulator scrutiny and general outrage over the bailouts, you can bet that banks won’t be significantly ramping up hiring anytime soon.
Wrap your head around this: Records of U.S. housing starts date back to 1959. The only three years on record where fewer than 1 million homes were built? That would be 2008, 2009 and 2010. There were a few months where the annual pace slumped below that mark, but it always rebounded soon afterward. Besides, if you want to play the cherry-pick-a-month game, some months in recent memory show an abysmal rate of under 600,000 (see the data for yourself).
The logical extrapolation of all this is that construction jobs — particularly home construction jobs — are hard to come by. A recent report stated that for September, the industry’s unemployment rate “improved” by the most since February — to 13.3%. That just about sums it up.
I previously have written about the trend of Congress killing jobs, not creating them. Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports for the first six months of 2011 showed that the government was the single-largest source of job layoffs. By some estimates, more than 500,000 government jobs have been lost since President Barack Obama took office thanks to spending cuts and debt concerns. And that’s even with temporary census workers juicing the numbers for a bit.
To top it all off, you have conservatives pushing for even more job cuts in Washington and local municipalities — most recently with a GOP bill called the “Reducing the Size of the Federal Government Through Attrition Act.” The gist? As people quit, don’t replace them and reduce the federal work force by 10% — an additional 500,000 jobs — by 2015. So if you’re looking for one of those plush “gubmint” positions, don’t hold your breath.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.