What to Expect from the Labor Market in 2017

By Joseph Coombs Jan 6, 2017
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The number of HR manager positions will increase this year by 1,100 in California—the highest volume in the nation—and by 8.6 percent in Nevada, the largest percentage increase among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to a set of forecasts at Projections Central, a website with employment data compiled by state agencies.

Those projections and the outlooks for hundreds of other types of jobs on the site are, of course, subject to change. However, there is no doubt that the U.S. labor market is still in the midst of a healthy expansion, as November 2016 marked the 74th consecutive month of growth.

And while 2016's pace of job creation (about 180,000 new jobs per month) was behind that of 2015 (an average of 229,000 jobs each month), the level of expansion has still been strong enough to keep unemployment rates low.

So what might be coming in 2017? An uncertain political environment has perhaps obscured hiring outlooks for some employers, but if economic conditions remain strong, expect job growth to continue for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, here are several projections for the labor market in 2017.

To kick off the new year, 41.7 percent of manufacturers and 26.2 percent of service-sector companies will be adding jobs during January, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report for the first month of the year. Both sectors' hiring rates will increase when compared with January 2016, and the manufacturing net of 41.7 percent represents a four-year high for the month.

Weak holiday retail sales are clouding the hiring forecast for the service sector, however. Macy's and other big retailers with physical stores have announced dozens of store closures and thousands of layoffs in the past days to cut costs and streamline their operations.

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In a set of projections released Dec. 14, 2016, the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Reserve Bank presidents predicted a median unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in 2017, down slightly from a September 2016 projection of 4.6 percent. At the moment, the Fed seems quite confident in the labor market's near-term outlook: Forecasts for 2018 and 2019 are also calling for a median jobless rate of 4.5 percent.

The "hottest jobs in 2017" will be found in an array of industries, including business and financial operations, information technology, health care, sales, and skilled trades, according to data compiled by human capital firm CareerBuilder and labor market data provider Emsi.

Staffing agency Robert Half International (RHI) has forecasted employment growth in several sectors in 2017, including the legal industry, where 25 percent of employers are expected to add to their staffs in the first half of the new year. Among those with hiring plans, 40 percent said they will add staff to their litigation practices.

RHI said 16 percent of chief information officers said they would add to their technology staffs during the January-to-June time frame in 2017, and workers with database management skills are in the highest demand (according to 44 percent of respondents). RHI also reported that 12 percent of advertising and marketing executives said they will grow their payrolls in the first half of the new year. A quarter of advertising and marketing executives who had hiring plans said they were seeking web design/production workers in 2017.

Finally, more than half (53.5 percent) of employers that responded to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers rated the job market as "good" for 2017 college graduates. Another 29.2 percent of respondents rated it "very good," and 7.6 percent dubbed it an "excellent" market for 2017 graduates. Less than 10 percent of respondents rated it either "fair" (9 percent) or "poor" (0.7 percent).

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.

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