# Insurance March employment figures at odds with other industries

On May 8 the Labor Department reported that the U.S. labor market lost a historic 20.5 million nonfarm jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent. The worst affected sectors are leisure and hospitality, which lost 7.7 million workers.

Dr. Steven Weisbart, Triple-I’s chief economist, points out that the employment data for March 2020* for the insurance industry are startling largely because they are at odds with employment changes in many other lines of work.

• Employment at property/casualty carriers held steady in March 2020 at 559,100–the same as in January and only 800 fewer than February.
• Employment at life/annuity carriers held essentially steady in March 2020 at 347,600–the same as in October 2019 and down a bit from the 348,000-349,000 in November 2019 through February 2020.
• Employment at health and medical insurance carriers rose in March 2020 to 585,100–its highest-ever level, up 1,500 from February 2020.
• Employment at agencies and brokerages rose in March 2020 to 852,400–its highest ever level, up 1,700 from February.

* The insurance industry/sector-specific data are not seasonally adjusted and are one month behind the national data.

# Making sense of the dip in property/casualty carrier employment

By Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the number of people working for property/casualty (p/c) insurers has been dropping continually for two years (since February 2017), from 551,200 to 520,700 (the preliminary estimate for February 2019).

Seasonal adjustment plays a small part in determining these numbers. The not-seasonally-adjusted p/c carrier employment for February 2017 was 549,500, and the February 2019 preliminary estimate was 518,600.

What’s going on? Is this a trend? Based on the numbers alone, it’s hard to tell. Consider the following graph of seasonally-adjusted p/c carrier employment since January 2011 — 18 months after the official end of the Great Recession:

Don’t be misled by the spike in March 2015-March 2016. This is how the Bureau of Labor Statistics incorporates a change in classification—that is, in this case, some people who were previously not considered employed by p/c carriers were, as of March 2015, now considered as employed in this industry. Rather than an instant change, the adjustment is made over twelve months beginning and ending in March.

Since the data that begin in March 2016 also show a downtrend, it is easy to infer that, if there had been no reclassification in 2015-16, the downward trend that started (on the graph) in 2011 would in 2019 probably show p/c carrier employment at or below 500,000.

Although we don’t readily have policy counts over that span, it is reasonable to assume that, with growth in the population and the economy, p/c carriers are growing, and doing so with fewer employees. It is likely that at least some of this is due to the use of digital methods for activities that humans previously did. P/C carriers are becoming more productive.