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Nonprofits: Bright Spot in National Employment Picture

December 04, 2010

Fallout from the so-called Great Recession has been widespread and persistent. Three years after the economy started to slump, statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than 15 million Americans are out of work, 6.3 million have been unemployed at least six months, and the number who want to work full time but cannot due to economic reasons (U6) is stuck at about 27 million people, an eye-popping 17 percent of the workforce.

So it was a surprise when the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University released a report earlier this year which showed that employment in the nonprofit sector -- the fourth-largest employer, by industry, in the U.S. -- had held up reasonably well during the economic downturn.

Based on an analysis of data from twenty-states, the report found that between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, the worst part of the recession, nonprofit employment grew by an average of 2.5 percent annually, while for-profit employment in those states declined by an average of 3.3 percent annually. Another surprise: annual nonprofit job growth over that two-year period actually was stronger than the 2.3 percent annual rate the sector experienced during the 2001-07 period, before the wheels on the economy started to come off, while annual job growth in the for-profit sector was a paltry .02 percent during that period.

Which is not to say that nonprofits and the sector haven't been bruised by the recession. The same report found that 40 percent of the nonprofit organizations surveyed currently lack adequate staff resources to deliver their programs and services, while those people with jobs are being asked to pick up additional responsibilities, work longer hours, and/or have had benefits reduced.

Our own PND job board data over the last twelve months reflects many of these trends. Nonprofits in California, New York, and Washington, D.C., continue to account for the lion's share of job openings posted, even though California currently has one of the highest jobless rates (15 percent) in the country and the D.C. area has suffered significant job losses.


It's also no surprise that development and fundraising positions have comprised the majority of job openings submitted to our job board over the last twelve months (that's the case even when the economy is healthy). And we've noticed an uptick, from basically none to more than a few, in jobs having to do with social media and online community development/management, as well as many more requests than usual to extend application deadlines -- a sign, perhaps, that nonprofits feel no urgency to fill positions and are wading deep into their applicant pools to find the best- and/or most-qualified candidates.

While it's increasingly apparent the climb back to full employment will be painfully slow -- with devastating consequences for 50-something boomers, underemployed Gen Xers, and debt-burdened Gen Yers and Millennials -- the vast majority of nonprofits have done what they needed to do to survive the recession and have demonstrated they know how to manage their financial affairs better than many Wall Street firms and the federal government. What's more, the considerable damage caused by the Great Recession would've been far worse if not for the tens of thousands of nonprofits that work every day to assist people who are down on their luck or have fallen through the country's frayed social-safety net. Surely, that's something to keep in mind as you make your rounds this holiday shopping season.

--Lauren Brathwaite and Emily Robbins

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Posted by Scoremore  |   December 06, 2010 at 06:23 AM

Let’s not get too misty eyed. A lot of that manufacturing in the immediate post WWII era was immediately turned off. No more contracts for tanks and bombers. Second, with respect to “pauper” manufacturing, there was no competition with foreign countries because all the relevant countries were bombed into rubble.

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