Where the Jobs Are: The Right Spots in the Recovery

It's true — employment is finally growing again. But this won't be a recovery as you've known it. Here's a bird's-eye look at where the best new opportunities for work will be

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Andrew Cutraro / Redux for TIME

At a robotics lab at Johns Hopkins University, a research team explores new technologies. Hopkins creates jobs, even businesses, but many of Baltimore's residents lack the right skills to get them.

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None of this means that we're going back to an old-fashioned economy. One of the less attractive features of this job recovery is that it will be cruelly uneven. It will favor, more than ever, the college educated over blue collar workers. It will favor cities that have developed industry clusters in which skills match demand. It will favor the Dakotas over states such as Florida, Nevada and California. It will favor those who work in the private sector over those who work in the public sector. Moody's Analytics' Mark Zandi predicts state and local governments will shed 150,000 jobs this year to try to plug the gaping holes in their budgets. And it will favor companies that sell abroad rather than those that depend solely on domestic demand. "Any industry that is very focused on exports will do well," says Behravesh. "Agriculture, aircraft, high tech." He would include education in that segment, since so many foreign countries send their best and brightest here.

What's more, the "he-cession," as some have labeled it, will linger like a bad cold. Men represent 60% of the long-term unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The construction industry shed 2 million jobs in the past three years and isn't poised to restore all that many in 2011. Likewise, the domestic auto industry, which pulled a Houdini in even getting to 2011, is still rationalizing its manufacturing capacity to match its market share. That means recovery will remain in low gear across the industrial Midwest.

Because autos and construction are male-dominated industries, a lot of guys will stay on the sidelines. Nor can many of them move to more promising areas of the country where there might be jobs to suit them, since they are locked into homes they can't sell. (The housing crisis is the gift that keeps on misgiving.) One possible relief valve: energy and mining. Increasing demand for ores, coal, oil and gas, a by-product of growth in China and India, is one reason North Dakota's unemployment rate is 3.8%, the lowest in the nation.

Women have the edge over men because they are better educated and they dominate the parts of the employment universe that are expanding the most (namely, health and education). Women's share of these jobs will likely increase, given that more women are earning college degrees than men are, by a 3-to-2 margin. Women already hold 51.5% of high-paying management and professional positions.

The education premium — the payoff for earning a degree — will grow larger. According to Moody's, workers with a graduate, bachelor's or associate degree or even some college experience will get an increasing share of the jobs created. In 2011 the better educated will control 60.1% of all new jobs; by 2015, the projection rises to 66.4%, and that's even after construction bounces back.

It's more evidence that America is facing a bifurcated employment future. At the top end is a highly educated, technically competent workforce attuned to the demands of the global marketplace. At the other end is a willing but underskilled group that is seeing its prospects undermined by workers in countries like China in low-end manufacturing and by a skills mismatch in emerging industries.

It's a picture that looks something like Baltimore. A port city once anchored by an enormous Bethlehem Steel plant, Baltimore has lost 313,000 of its 950,000 residents in the past 60 years. But the city can create jobs. Baltimore's biggest private employer is Johns Hopkins, with 53,532 employees at the university and its hospitals. Hopkins is a force in emerging fields like bioengineering. But university president Ronald Daniels says the institution is creating jobs for skilled professionals in a city lacking them. Its middle class — white and black — is mostly gone. "What we have is a real mismatch. The population that is left behind is truly left behind," he notes, emphasizing the university's role in trying to improve Baltimore's education system. Hopkins has set up training programs for positions like lab technician to allow Baltimore residents a shot at the jobs the institution continues to create. It's one path to lowering the staggering 16% national unemployment rate among blacks.

Indeed, the ability to match vital skill sets to needs is going to determine whether many jobs will stay or move in cities all over the country in the next couple of years. Industrial arts are still in demand. Smith & Wesson has been producing hardware in Springfield, Mass., since 1852, and it plans to stay. The company is set to expand its historic manufacturing site, thanks to up to $6 million in tax credits from Massachusetts. And because business is getting better, director of marketing services Paul Pluff says, the company will be hiring 225 people over the next two years, in positions from factory worker to senior manager, at salaries from $35,000 to north of $150,000 annually. "These are good jobs at good wages, with full benefits," says Pluff.

Smith & Wesson shouldn't have much of a problem filling those vacancies with the right folks. It has been sending its used equipment to local vocational schools and community colleges to help develop the skilled workforce required to run the numerically controlled machining used to precision-cut metal. "The talent and the knowledge is here: we have been very adept at hiring and training," says Pluff.

There will be no shortage of applicants. It will be years before the unemployment rate gets below 5% again — if that ever happens — because so many jobs were destroyed or exported in the Great Recession. But the U.S. job machine has at least restarted, and this remains, by nature or necessity, a nation of workaholics. Americans have to work. Maybe that's why we've been so good at creating it.

With reporting by Deirdre van Dyk

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2011 issue of TIME.

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