Our Dying Services sector... or why jobs growth stinks

RobertBrusca's picture

Our dying services sector
What it means

In sifting through more economic data and trying to pin down exactly what is going on in this recovery (yes, it is a never-ending task) I uncovered some very interesting trends. You might find them interesting, too…

Although we are in a global slump and US export markets are now under pressure in this economic recovery if we compare it to past cycles it turns out that the US manufacturing sector is doing much, much, better than the services sector. Not only are services jobs lagging much worse than what is normally the case but services spending is anemic, too. On the goods side of the economy industrial output is actually near normal despite the ‘weak recovery.’ It is astonishing. And while ‘demand’ or GDP has been weak in this recovery ‘public enemy number one’ might just be the composition of demand more than demand itself. There has been too little demand for services and therefore too little job growth.

Cyclical overview of industrial output
If we look at output from the start of the recession (instead of the end), of course it is weak. Moreover, it is weaker than in any other Post-War recession period for all categories of industrial output. But that is obvious. It’s for the same reason that you run the 50 yard dash faster than the 60-yard dash. This recession has been longer that past Post-War recessions, so the comparison is not fair - and then there is that ‘weak’ part. To put comparisons on a ‘fair footing’ we look as the rise in output in this cycle compared to past cycles counting from the end of the recession. To do this we group past cycles into two divisions: the expansions from the 2001 and 1990 recessions, and their weak recoveries; and, the recessions of 1982 and 1982 which had strong recoveries.

It turns out that this recovery in industrial output is pretty much a middle case; it is nearly uniform across the sectors I have compared. It is faster than the slow ones and slower than the fast ones. Looking at the headline for industrial production and several major divisions (MFG, durables, non-durables, consumer goods, consumer non-durables, consumer durables and business equipment) the average of the fast-slow cycles was faster than this cycle in only three out of eight categories. And in this recovery overall durable goods output and business equipment output is actually faster than it was at this point –even in the two strong recoveries. If we make the comparisons for services nothing is stronger in this cycle.

Goods and services in GDP- the structural shift
I have a longer research piece with exhibits on my blog (robertbrusca.blogspot.com) that shows charts on goods and services spending in the aggregate. Since 1985 the trend for GDP spending on goods economy-wide is dead flat at about 4% per year. The same calculation for overall services spending shows a considerable down shifting and a clear shrinking trend. This is for overall economic services spending not just the more familiar spending on services in PCE.

For both of these broad sectors employment trends are also on the decline.

While there is a lot of focus on this recession, and special problems have emerged since the financial crisis, it seems that this recession has simply peeled back a view of the economy that has been hidden. Some suggest that the boom in construction hid the structural changes in the economy because it allowed some very under-skilled workers to obtain and hold relatively high paying jobs.

Elsewhere I have written on the long term shifting trends in labor force participation rates (see http://seekingalpha.com/article/355341-a-closer-look-at-labor-participat...). While there is a focus on the current economic situation is seems that our circumstances are the result of a number of irons that have been warming in the fire for some time, rather than effects that have sprung full formed out of the financial crisis itself..

One of the intriguing things to me is why the services sector is so weak. Is it linked to other problems and imbalances? While there is a reason to be concerned about the large US current account deficit and the damage being done by other countries that pursue export led growth strategies displacing US-sourced production that does not seem to be the front and center problem in services. Still, the loss of output in the US regardless of the firmness of goods growth in GDP implies that there have been fewer domestic multiplier effects than there might have been. That means outsourcing goods output has contributed to some of the weakness in services. By having slower MFG output growth we have churned out fewer positive externalities in the domestic economy that might have stimulated services.

More to the point is that our MFG sector has been kept at a world class pitch by the competition from abroad. And that competition has been painful. Meanwhile, domestically there has been much less competition in the non-traded goods sector and now those chickens are coming home to roost…

We can see this very clearly in the way the services sector encompassing government has raised pay, added benefits and promised pensions that have created a string of liabilities that is crippling government today. State and local government have added to the bulk without adding contribution to GDP an amount that is commensurate. Many localities are now being crushed under the burden of retirement benefits they can’t afford to pay and for which they have not properly reserved.

In this cycle some of that is being addressed. It is the pullback in state and in local hiring that is the unprecedented factor in this cycle. But over the longer run it has been a reduction of services demand and jobs in the private services sector that has suddenly emerged as an issue even though it has been ‘in train’ for some time as the trends clearly show. Why has this happened?

When we look at services what do we see? We see some of our least competitive and most controversial sectors. We see education where public sector quality has slipped and private sector costs have soared. We see healthcare where much the same has been in train with costs rising faster than the CPI by a large margin and persistently; in medicine innovation and technologies are keys drivers of costs making it unique. These sectors along with government make up about 36% of services employment. When we compare core services prices to core goods prices we find that services prices have been advancing faster than goods for some time. Since 1990 the ratio of core goods to core services prices (taking energy out of the picture, entirely) has fallen by nearly 25%. Services have becoming very expensive relative to goods; is it any surprise that we are buying fewer of them? Cable TV has become increasing expensive, for example, despite technology and competitiveness from the internet. Here we have a business that has in many communities monopoly status.

I think what we are seeing in the US is less the impact of some sudden shift than an ongoing adjustment to technology and sorting out competitive forces. With more pressure on budgets consumers are going to look more closely at some of the services they were used to purchasing rather than providing them themselves. Much services expenditure is associated with homeownership. The stress on that sector has undoubtedly cut back on that spending. But that is only the new aspect. Being unemployed focuses your attention on things you can do for yourself when time is more plentiful and money is scarce. That helps to explain why some of this contraction has been expedited in this downturn.

Still I think the point for services is that the down trends go back to 1985.

Cyclical comparisons by sector
When we compare some aspects of this recovery to past the past seven recoveries services spending emerges as exceptionally weak. Household and utilities spending, health care spending and recreation spending as well as spending for financial services are the absolute worse at this point in the cycle compared to past cycles. Transportation services are better in this recovery than in only one other. Food bests two other recoveries. Meanwhile goods in GDP are faring better, generally but not for all categories. Recreational goods purchases are the weakest in this recovery but spending on vehicles is in the 54th percentile of the high-low range making more it or less average Spending on other durables including household items like furniture and electronics is in the 30th percentile - weak but not as bad as for services. These calculations are from GDP accounts and track demand trends.

So why is the goods sector doing better? It certainly is true than multinational corporations have the option it to go ahead and do things abroad that are either taxed the most here, regulated the most here or are just plain cheaper abroad. It should make you wonder. Has this migration abroad been just for cheap labor or to evade regulation? The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) has a survey that assesses what its memberships’ biggest problem is. ‘Government requirements’ has just jumped up to its second highest reading at this point in the expansion and is very near the all-time cyclical high. Manufacturing firms can outsource to avoid the worst of the requirements in the US but services firms are stuck. Another reason is prices. As we saw in the previous discussion, goods are simply relatively cheaper than services.

Right now health care is a big issue. The Supreme Court is deciding the constitutionality of the Obamacare program. Some firms are said to be wary of hiring with this large obligation hanging in the balance even though its start date is in the future and the law’s status is unclear.

Goods Vs Services
Very few economists have formed the problem of the economy in this way as a goods Vs services issue. But there is a very clear dichotomy between how well the goods sector is doing and how well the services sector is doing. The issue is that we are getting our weakest growth in our most important job-producing sector. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to that?

When I compare spending in recoveries it turns out that in this recovery spending on goods especially durable goods and on business equipment and software have pretty much kept pace with recoveries in the past. At one point business equipment and software spending was faster in this cycle than in any previous recovery. The problem, as I like to re-cast it HAS NOT BEEN WHOLLY WEAK DEMAND. It has been the composition of demand. IF we had bought more services and fewer goods there would have been much more jobs growth in this expansion. With that, income growth would have been higher and corporate profits would have been lower. And the recovery would have been more balanced. We need to look more closely into this area to try to understand what has happened to our services sector.

Some figures for perspective
In this recovery consumer services bought/supplied have grown by 3.2 percent from their level at the end of recession as of the 33rd month of the expansion. It is the weakest performance we have seen by a long shot in the last eight recoveries that lasted this long. The previous low point at this point in the cycle was in the 2001 recovery at 6.5% before that it was the 9.2% rise in the 1990 recovery. Again, in those comparisons you get the sense of structural change as it is in the most recent recoveries that growth has become progressively weaker. The average for this point of the expansion cycle would be an 11.4% gain in services output if we had normal service sector growth. IF we had that, we would have had 5.5 million MORE jobs even after discounting for productivity growth in the sector and the loss of goods sector jobs from that demand shift to services. That means about 165K more jobs per month than what we have had all recovery long. This not a trivial problem it is a huge problem. And no one seems to be thinking about it.

It is something to think about.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
fuu's picture

Follow the Bouncing Balls!

tempo's picture

Brick and mortor retail, malls are dying. Each little store usually employs 10 to 15 people over 12 hrs/day, 7 days per week of selling and restocking. The US has 44 sq ft of retail space for every person compared to 4 Sq ft in the undeveloped countries. So we will be closing down millions of stores and laying off millions of people over the next decade. Retail is a dying industry.

Crab Cake's picture

Mfg production is great! Yeah using your dipshit compadres cooked numbers, and not accounting for channel stuffing. Recovery my arse, you two bit shill. Youre not even a good shill, your talent for writing is somewhere around the middle school level. Whoever is paying you to spew this bs is not getting their moneys worth.

Bob, Ive put you in a special category that Ive created. Its a club of criminals and liars, like you, you see. What club? Oh, I call it the if we ever meet casually, in an elevator or what have you, only one of us is leaving the encounter club.

shovelhead's picture


Everyone take out a few new credit cards and max em out. Mfg. gets a boost and the service sector will explode with new hires to try to collect the debts.

Where do I go to pick up my Nobel in Economics?

I am Jobe's picture


Get out of this publishing crap. U suck and change your tune every day. Hope you don't have kids who as ADHD as u are.


Jack Sheet's picture

The poor fucker probably has no other way of making a crust than appearing under Warren Buffet's mug in the advertising banner

Jack Sheet's picture

Jesus H Christ what is this bullshit - a term paper?

akak's picture

More like a desperate and grasping freshman final exam essay.

Jack Sheet's picture

Economics - an infantile farce masquerading behind the façade of an academic "discipline"

williambanzai7's picture

There are a few people who reluctantly accept the label of economist, but are genuine critical thinkers. Those few people are marginalized and ridiculed by the in crowd.

williambanzai7's picture

Overall, I would say that what can be learned from Mr Brusca is verbal slight of hand techniques...such as the casual references to this recovery and Ben Bernankes good job to date.

You constantly see these kinds of gems all across the MSM. Creating a new reality out of nothing. This is what Mr Goebbels minions excelled at.

Critical thinking is not welcome in public.

piceridu's picture

He's a shills shill. Every time I click on one of his posts, I can almost see in his writing style, his pursing lips suckling on the government binky.

Corn1945's picture

You're exactly right.

Why does no one ask the simple question: If the economy has "recovered" and everything is great, why are we still talking about all of this three years after the "recession" ended!

williambanzai7's picture

Words such as green shoots, recovery, cautious optimism and recession is over are hollow slogans used for a particular purpose. They are dressed up with so called data which we are told never lies and we are expected to accept the resulting salad of nonsense as some kind of scientific reality.

You are better off reading Lewis Carrol if you want to understand what is happening.

jomama's picture

look mom, i guess i can be an economist as well!


James's picture

Mr. Brusca - I'm sensing total disconnect from reality from you from your articles you've submitted here @ ZH.

Unless and until HOUSING is selling YOU WILL NOT HAVE a recovery.

Housing and related purchases have ALWAYS pulled the U.S. out of recessions.

You keep telling me about housing starts. Those in the know DO NOT consider permits pulled for rentals/apts. to even be housing.That itself is the giveaway that you have a moribund market.

Apts. don't have granite countertops,wood floors,$600.00 Kohler faucets,cedar or steel roofs,let alone 2,000' + of floor space.

This bubble they blew in housing that has since burst has, IMO, decimated housing for at least another decade. And this does not even aknowledge the 200 year chain of title decimated by schemes such as MERS.


Winston Churchill's picture

I honestly think two generations before a housing recovery.

The generation coming into the workforce will have neither the

means,or the inclination to purchase.

Their children(if they can afford them),maybe.Probably their

grand children is the more likely generation to start buying.

By then ,the existing housing stock will mostly only be good for

demolition.40+ yerars,maybe......

James's picture

@ Winston Churchall - This link is thinking along your line.


He, like you, says housing is done - PERMANENTLY.


riphowardkatz's picture


Job growth and economic improvement are for REAL



ihedgemyhedges's picture

+1 and ties in well with my pull from wiki yesterday and current Brusca denial of being Greenspan defender.  Makes me think of Katy Perry song.................

You're hot then you're cold, you're yes then you're no, you're in then you're out.........................

sleepingbeauty's picture

Being unemployed focuses your attention on things you can do for yourself when time is more plentiful and money is scarce. That helps to explain why some of this contraction has been expedited in this downturn.

It kinda makes sense with the internet and for me has less to do with unemployment than google. Example: I used to hire someone to fix the dishwasher when it stopped working. Now I google it and am able to fix it with just the part. No labour. I can do that with just about everything. Usually the things I used to pay for could be done fairly quickly and they required no experience. I think it is equally applicable across many service industries. 

If I want to sell my house, why pay 6% to a real estate agent.
If I want to get a gel manicure why pay $40 to get them done.
If I want my tax return done why pay $99 to get someone to do it.
If I want to learn how to code in Java why pay $500 for a course.

Google knows. I just have to ask. 

riphowardkatz's picture

Division of labor is productive. Productivity is the source of wealth.  Your constraint to more wealth in this world is not through cost cutting it is through growth.


banksterhater's picture

"food bests 2 recoveries" ? Is that adj for population/food price inflation? The jobs report showed gains in "professional/business services, imo, this is the most questionable, as many work out of their homes, brick & morter are deadmen walking due to lease costs, engineers, architects thinking we will soon overbuild again are delusional, 50% of these "services" are bogus and will die within 6 months.


Yes_Questions's picture



Lost me at this recovery.


This must be the blog world equivalent of a UA test with a parole officer.


Busted for running Fight Club?

WAMO556's picture

I read this crap and I am still calculating FAST/SLOW and SLOW/FAST... was this supposed to be a quantum mechanics expose or more string theory. The info was USELESS - shouldn't we be payint attention to that??? More economist BS designed to talk over our heads and try to get some BS legislation pushed. "We will find out what is in it after we passed it!!!"

banksterhater's picture

agree- this is worthless crap. We all know the type of jobs being "created" net of the birth-death adding over 200k jobs, they added 170K in April 2011, and 30K more this April? There's your corruption.

yea, some construction because they're now overbuilding apts

some weapons export manufacturing, the US is largest weapons exporter

professional/bus services is 50% bogus after 6 months

healthcare hiring is over

dining hiring over because 700K go off unemployment in July

Stuck on Zero's picture

I know the Fed website shows huge gains in Industrial Production but where's the evidence that there has been a huge gain?  Not car sales, down 40% (http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/tag/sales-charts-by-segments/).  Not machinery.  Not household appliances.  Not coal.  Not anything that ships by rail or ship.  Where the heck does this schlock come from? 

Yes_Questions's picture



The owner's are building arks and bunkers.

move along.

quasimodo's picture

WTF? ZH has a trojan horse slipped in here?

akak's picture


"... in this economic recovery ...."

I stopped reading right there.

Bruschetta, like your namesake overpriced appetizer, your credibility here is toast.


PS: May I introduce you to my friend, the comma?  (Not to be confused with "coma", a permanent mental condition of every one of you Keynesian economic hacks.)  He is the constant companion of all good writers, a group which most certainly does NOT include you.

Jack Sheet's picture

Lately: Rubber Scrota (acknowledging an erudite anagramatic ZH commentator yesterday) or Bob Brsucka

williambanzai7's picture

Do you sometimes miss Leo?

akak's picture

How can I miss him when he is apparently still here?

LowProfile's picture


How can I miss him when he is apparently still here?


I stopped reading there as well.  Consider the phrase:

In sifting through more economic data and trying to pin down exactly what is going on in this recovery (yes, it is a never-ending task)

Can anyone say "goal-seeked results"?

What a deluded fuckwit.

malek's picture

I actually made it to

  US manufacturing sector is doing much, much, better than the services sector

which is one of the most ridiculous lies you can found your argument on.
With an enormous amount of will power I continued through the drivel to see if I could find any "fact" that supports the above statement.
It came down to:

Since 1985 the trend for GDP spending on goods economy-wide is dead flat at about 4% per year. The same calculation for overall services spending shows a considerable down shifting and a clear shrinking trend

No shit sherlock! Because spending on goods is flat at 4%, our manufacturing sector is doing well? (Or might that be the Chinese manufacturing sector?)
Now think about how great the agricultural sector is doing, flat at 1% of GDP for many, many decades!!! - Ok, I just made that number up, but it should be in the right ballpark.

Oh, and by the way where did the percentage lost to the service sector go?
Has there unbeknownst to me a fourth sector been created?


Robert, you must really enjoy basking in bullshit.

ihedgemyhedges's picture

More useless economist drivel from a noted defender of Alan Greenspan.  Paging: Kyle Bass, Hugh Hendry or John Mauldin (or anyone who provides something actually useful to the board)..............

RobertBrusca's picture

noted CRITIC of Alan Greenspan

No fan of Greenspan

James's picture

Down 1 for lying to me.

ihmh busted you yesterday on Greenspan.

You've only changed your opinion after the maestro and co. imploded the economy.

You have a severe case of normalcy bias.

You are unwilling to accept the fact that your keynesian beliefs that you hold ultimately blew up in your face and brought the global economy to it's knees.

ihedgemyhedges's picture

then you better get on wiki and do some editing.....see my post from yesterday.

Cheeky Bitch's picture

lol..like your qualified to comment?

ihedgemyhedges's picture

Nice grammar....................btw, would you make a SINGLE trade off of ANYTHING BS Brusca has stated on this board????  Give me Bass, Rosenberg, etc any day of the week, bitch.