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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A post-Great Recession overview of labor market trends in the United States and California


It has been well over a decade since the economy tumbled into what is now dubbed the Great Recession—reflecting the historical severity and swiftness of the downturn. The recession officially lasted from December 2007 through June 2009. However, the economy underperformed for nearly a decade as the output gap—GDP coming in under potential—did not close until the end of 2017. After being in the grips of the worst recession since the Great Depression the economy is currently in a lengthy expansion with record job growth, stock market performance, and unemployment rates. But, troubling challenges remain such as weak wage growth, depressed employment rates, high rates of poverty, and increased inequality.

There has been a lot of media attention around advances in automation and how robots are leading to widespread joblessness as the demand for workers shrinks. We find that both of these claims are dubious, at least on a large scale. As this brief will show, job growth is in an unprecedented stretch of monthly gains, unemployment is low and falling, and productivity growth has been on the wane—not much support for the hypothesis of automation causing mass worker displacement. The “gig” economy continues to get significant media attention, but it remains a small fraction of all jobs—estimated to be 0.5 to 1.0 percent of the workforce. The Labor Department recently released the Contingent Worker Survey after a hiatus since 2005. The share of workers that engage in alternative work, including independent contractors and temp workers, did not change—estimated at 10.1% in 2017 compared to 10.7% in 2005. The vast majority of the workforce continue to work in traditional employment situations.

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