The gap between the trends in the St. Louis economy, as measured by two surveys, is once again wide. According to Current Employment Survey (CES) data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), total non-farm payroll employment was 2,000 (0.2%) lower in June 2012 than it had been in June 2011, with the private sector falling by 300. On the other hand household-based data from the BLS on the number of employed residents of metro St. Louis, including the self employed, shows an increase of 5,600 (0.4%) year-over-year in June. The drop in the unemployment rate, however, is mostly due to a massive decrease of 18,000 (1.2%) in the local labor force according to this source.
Population growth is limited here—Moody’s Economy.com puts the 2011 increase at close to zero and predicts gains of barely over 10,000 people (0.4%) per year going forward. With fewer workers and more retirees, the vitality of the economy is threatened. More high-skilled immigrants could boost the St. Louis’ economy according the Post-Dispatch, which is concerned about limits on them under the hire H-1B visa program. “This year, the quota of 85,000 visas ran out in just 10 weeks,” with the demand for skilled immigrants such as scientists “concentrated in metropolitan areas, including St. Louis. Local employers filed 2,263 H-1B applications, putting us 24th on a list of ‘high demand’ areas.” Since St. Louis immigrants are more likely to be in this high-skill pool, “a recent study by local economic development officials found that the average immigrant household here earns $83,000 a year, 25.0% more than native-born households.”
Although the overall economy remains weak, CES data still shows year-over-year employment growth in office-and-industrial-based sectors. Total employment in Manufacturing sector was up by 1,000 jobs (0.9%) year-over-year in June, with a year-over-year gain of 2,400 jobs (4.0%) in Wholesale Trade and 400 (0.9%) in Transportation and Utilities. Among office-based sectors, Professional and Business Services gained 5,500 jobs (2.8%) year-over-year, with the included Professional, Scientific and Technical Services component adding 3,100 (4.3%). The Financial Activities sector, hit hard during the recession, added a modest 500 jobs (0.6%).
Consumer-driven sectors remain weak according to CES data. Leisure and Hospitality lost 2,100 jobs (1.5%) year-over-year in June, and Retail Trade lost 5,700 (4.1%) including a decrease of 1,000 (3.2%) in the big-box
General Merchandise Stores industry. Construction and related sectors took another hit with a loss of another 3,500 jobs (5.3%) in the year to June 2012. It had added some jobs in the year to June 2011, but has apparently not yet hit bottom. “The home remodeling business in St. Louis is still wallowing in a slump,” according to the Post-Dispatch, but the newspaper predicts a near turn turnaround. With the housing bubble over, this source recommends that homeowners “do it for comfort not profit.” “People are staying put,” a broker told this source. “Back in ’03, if the bathroom was pink, people would just sell the house.”