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Surviving the Shift

Fewer workers produce goods now than they did before the recession, and more of them provide services, particularly in education and health. Fewer work for employers in New England and the industrial Midwest; more work in the Washington area, Florida and the Southwest.

Women held more jobs last month than they did in March 2001, while men still lagged.

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Government jobs grew, but only because of rising payrolls at the state and local level; the federal government shed jobs.

"There was a repositioning" by employers after the hiring binge that accompanied the economic boom in the late 1990s, said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp.

"During the party phase . . . we were hiring everybody" because businesses believed the stock market and demand would climb ever higher, Yamarone recalled. Unemployment dipped as low as 3.8 percent in 2000, and the nation's tally of non-farm payroll jobs peaked at 132.5 million in March 2001. "It felt wonderful but also generated false hopes and expectations . . . that the party was going to continue indefinitely."

Then came the recession and a slump in demand that forced all companies to reexamine their staffing needs. That coincided with the stock market plunge and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, companies used new technologies and business methods to produce more goods and services even as they shed workers, boosting productivity.

Waves of layoffs resulted and continued for nearly two years after the recession ended. At the low point, in August 2003, the nation had 2.7 million fewer non-farm payroll jobs, or 2 percent less than at the peak.

But since August 2003, the number has grown, reaching a total last month of 132.3 million jobs.

The Labor Department releases its January employment figures tomorrow, as well as revisions to last year's job counts. After the revisions, the December total may well exceed the peak level, which would mean that the country had erased its job deficit before last month. But those revisions appear unlikely to change the overall employment patterns.

Many employees, like Blanchfield, were caught up in the changes and managed to land on their feet. But 8 million people also remained unemployed last month. Of those, 1.6 million -- 1 in 5 -- had been unemployed for more than six months.


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