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NPO Job Openings (May 2011)

June 16, 2011

Last month's disappointing job numbers fueled fears that the economy may be sliding back into recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls grew by 54,000 in May -- far less than most economists had predicted and the lowest monthly total so far this year -- while the number of unemployed (13.9 million) and the unemployment rate (9.1 percent) were essentially unchanged. The number crunchers at BLS also revised nonfarm payroll employment down in both March (from +221,000 to +194,000) and April (from +244,000 to +232,000).

The less-than-rosy numbers accelerated a month-long selloff in equity markets already worried about high gas prices and European debt woes. Soft housing numbers -- the widely followed Case-Shiller home-price index hit a new low in March, below the previous bottom recorded in April 2009 -- and an Empire State Manufacturing Survey reading of -7.8 in June, down significantly from May's level of 11.9, added to the sense of an economy struggling to find its footing.

Here at PND we use our own (unscientific) indicator -- job openings at tax-exempt U.S. organizations, as measured by job postings to the PND job board -- to gauge the health of the economy. And so far this year the news has been pretty good.

(Click on chart for bigger image.)


As the chart indicates, postings to the board have been up, on a year-over-year basis, every month in 2011 except for January. (The chart also shows that every month in 2010 showed improvement, on a year-over-year basis, than the corresponding month in 2009, with the exception, again, of January.)

As noted, this is a completely unscientific indicator, for the following reasons:

  • Given that income streams for most nonprofits are relatively predictable on a year-over-year basis, employment trends in the sector tend to be less volatile than in the for-profit sector, making changes in nonprofit payrolls a lagging rather than a leading indicator.
  • Because any tax-exempt organization in the U.S. can post a job at PND for free, activity on the board is somewhat counter-cyclical (i.e., the board tends to get busier as nonprofit budgets are squeezed).
  • Our ability to post jobs is a function of the (limited) resources we're able to dedicate to the task, something that fluctuates over the course of a calendar year.

That said, our indicator would seem to suggest that nonprofit sector employment is hanging in there, even as the overall economy slows. A quick glance at the chart also shows that the board was busy last summer, as recession-battered nonprofits finally began to staff up in anticipation of a slow but steady recovery. One would expect that much of that hiring as already happened and that June, July, and August will not be as busy on the hiring front as they were in 2010. But you never know. We'll keep a close eye on it and will revisit our indicator in early September.

In the meantime, we'd love to hear what's happening at your organization. Are you hiring? Are other nonprofits in your region hiring? In what areas? And how does the rest of the year look? Will you be adding to head count? Reducing it? Let us know in the comments area below.

-- Mitch Nauffts


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