Regional Employment Trends Offer Insight into 2018 Job Market

Since 2012, the United States is on an employment hot streak. 2017 saw a 4.1% unemployment rate, down considerably from a recent high of 10% in 2009.[1] December 2017 marked 86 consecutive months of job growth, a record for the nation.[2] The current business expansion, which began after June 2009, has lasted 103 months—nearing the record 120 months from April 1991 to March 2001.[3] From 2016 to 2017, there was a 1.5% national increase in employment, bringing us to what economists consider “full employment.”[4] And despite all these new jobs, there’s still a record 6 million jobs available.[5] All together, these numbers tell the story of job growth across the nation.

When we dig deeper into each region of the country, we see an even clearer picture start to emerge of what job growth looks like for key industries.

The West: Booming Construction Industry Leads to Overall Growth

Western States:  Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Alaska

Total Job Growth 2016-2017: 1.7%

Top Industry Job Growth 2016-2017:

  1.       Construction: 5.7%
  2.       Education and Health Services: 2.7%
  3.       Leisure and Hospitality: 1.8%

The western states are notable for a tremendous 5.7% employment increase in the construction industry, the greatest single-industry increase anywhere nationally. This regional growth is represented well in Southern California, which is experiencing a large construction boom. In fact, if Southern California were its own state, it would be the largest employer of construction professionals in the entire country; this area alone hired one-sixth of all new construction workers in 2017.[6] Activity like this—along with growth in education, healthcare, and the hospitality industries—have helped the West outpace national job growth numbers.

The Southwest: Falling Energy Prices Create Opportunities for Manufacturing Industry

Southwestern States: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas

Total Job Growth 2016-2017: 2.1%

Top Industry Job Growth 2016-2017:

  1.       Manufacturing: 3.8%
  2.       Financial Activities: 3.3%
  3.       Leisure and Hospitality: 3.1%

The Southwestern United States experienced the greatest total job growth from 2016 to 2017 at 2.1%. This is the only region on our list with manufacturing as a top growth industry. In states like Texas, cheaper oil has been a boon for refining and petrochemical companies.[7] Growth in energy and manufacturing has also been served by significant engineering talent in cities like Houston. Population influx has brought with it increased jobs in the financial industry to support new business development, as well as a spike in leisure and hospitality hires as more people move to town.

The Midwest: Low Unemployment Rates Mean Stable Growth

Midwestern States: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan

Total Job Growth 2016-2017: 0.9%

Top Industry Job Growth 2016-2017:

  1.       Financial Activities: 2.3%
  2.       Leisure and Hospitality: 1.5%
  3.       Education and Health Services: 1.4%

The Midwestern United States showed the least total job growth, 0.9%. That said, entering 2016, this region had the nation’s lowest overall unemployment rate.[8] The past several years have brought significant rebounds in manufacturing across the “rust belt,” which has played a large role in the tripling of manufacturing job openings from 99,000 in 2009 to over 300,000 in 2017.[9] Cities like Detroit and Toledo have led the nation in increases in industrial jobs for 2015.[10] That paved the way for significant industry employment growth in sectors that support industrial expansion; financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services have all enjoyed growth indicative of a stable economy in the Midwest.

The Northeast: Business As Usual in Large Urban Markets

Northeastern States: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut

Total Job Growth 2016-2017: 1.2%

Top Industry Job Growth 2016-2017:

  1.       Construction: 3.6%
  2.       Professional and Business Services: 2.2%
  3.       Education and Health Services: 2.2%

The Northeastern United States remains something of a microcosm of the rest of the United States. Its total employment increase of 1.2% is close to the nation’s overall total of 1.5%. Construction is by a wide margin the largest growth industry in terms of jobs, which reflects the Northeast’s many large urban markets like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia. These cities remain central to the nation’s business activity, as the professional and business services industry continues to thrive.

The Southeast: Port Cities Spur Real Estate Boom

Southeastern States: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama

Total Job Growth 2016-2017: 1.6%

Top Industry Job Growth 2016-2017:

  1.       Construction: 3.6%
  2.       Professional and Business Services: 2.9%
  3.       Education and Health Services: 2.1%

The Southeastern United States has enjoyed significant job growth thanks in large part to its many port cities that act as a gateway to the world. Atlanta, Orlando, and Memphis are all strategically located to handle large volumes of import and export activity as a result of continued e-commerce growth. [11] That growth, in turn, has brought with it increased demand for the construction industry in the form of new office construction and new private real estate to house growing populations. The major international hubs of Atlanta and Miami have been experiencing particularly large real estate spikes, with those two cities alone accounting for 50% of the real estate investment in the region as of 2017.[12]

Across the board, continually increasing employment rates and record numbers of open jobs mean an evolving job pool for employers large and small. Especially in those top-growing industries like construction, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality, employers are going to continue to face a tight job market as they seek to attract and retain the talent they need to compete.

For a deeper dive into the job market outlook for 2018, including state-by-state unemployment trends, hiring rates by industry, and tips for how employers can use 401(k) benefits to compete in a tight job market, download our 2018 Job Market Outlook.














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