Wall Street's Travails Not Evident in U.S. Jobs Data

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Overall headcount in the securities industry continues to defy gravity, the latest Labor Department data show.

Nationwide employment in securities, commodity contracts and investments expanded by 8,300 jobs (1 percent) over the first three months of 2008, even while U.S. non-farm payrolls across all industries posted three monthly declines. The industry's preliminary, seasonally adjusted March total of 865,000 jobs is a record high (up 2,400 from February's record high), and is 3 percent higher than the peak figure from the previous cycle, set in March of 2001.

Securities employment within New York State - perhaps a better proxy for investment bank headcounts than the national figures - has trended lower since last summer, but is still only 3 percent off its July 2007 cycle high. In February - the latest month of data broken out by both industry and state - employment in securities, commodities and investments edged up to 206,200 from January's 205,600. The figure is down by 6,800 since last July. Unlike the nationwide figures, the state totals are not seasonally adjusted.

During the previous downturn from 2001-2003, the industry's headcount in New York plummeted nearly 20 percent, wiping out a net 42,200 jobs. Nationwide securities employment shed 11 percent, or 91,400 jobs.

A recent Financial Times article stated: "Banks including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers have cut at least 34,000 jobs thus far and are expected to slice at least another 20,000." The source of those numbers wasn't identified, but they may have come from a compilation of layoff announcements by various investment banks (presumably excluding their mortgage origination subsidiaries, which announced tens of thousands more layoffs and in a few cases, ceased doing business). But even as they lay off workers in departments where business has dried up, banks create new jobs in areas thought to be promising, such as wealth management for private clients. And neither domestic layoff announcements nor U.S. government jobs data include the banks' international operations.

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