As another month passes, the great schism inside the American labor force get wider. We are referring to the unprecedented divergence between the total number of high-paying manufacturing jobs, and minimum-wage food service and drinking places jobs, also known as waiters and bartenders. In October, according to the BLS, while the number of people employed by “food services and drinking places” rose by another 10,000, the US workforce lost another 9,000 manufacturing workers.
The chart below puts this in context: since 2014, the US had added 547,000 waiters and bartenders, and has lost 36,000 manufacturing workers.
Yet while we would be the first to congratulate the new American waiter and bartender class, something does not smell quite right. On one hand, there has been a spike in recent restaurant bankruptcies or mass closures (Logan’s, Fox and Hound, Bob Evans), which has failed to reflect in the government report.
On the other hand, as the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant performance activity index showed last month, overall industry sentiment is the worst since the financial crisis, due to declines in both same-store sales and customer traffic, suggesting that restaurant workers should now be in the line of fire for mass layoffs.
However, what we find more suspect, is that according to the BLS’ seasonally adjusted “data”, starting in March of 2010 and continuing through September of 2016, there has been just one month in which restaurant workers lost jobs, and alternatively, jobs for waiters and bartenders have increased in 79 out of the past 80 months, with just one month of job losses, something unprecedented in this series history.
Putting this divergence in a long context, since the official start of the last recession in December 2007, the US has gained 1.7 million waiters and bartenders, and lost 1.5 million manufacturing workers. Worse, while the latter series had been growing, if at a slower pace than historically, it has now clearly rolled over, and in 2016, some 58,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost.
Like last month, we remain curious what this “data” series will look like after it is revised by the BLS shortly after the NBER declares the official start of the next recession.