By Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist
The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just published data as of October 2017 on detailed insurance industry employment, and the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)website contains updated multi-decade trend data in chart form. (The insurance industry/sector-specific data are not seasonally adjusted and are one month behind the national data; accordingly, the report released on December 8 provides national data for November 2017 and industry/sector-specific data for October 2017.) Data for the last few months are preliminary and are often revised later, but revisions are usually small. The I.I.I. slides show employment trends for property/casualty (P/C), life/annuity, health (mainly medical expense) insurers and reinsurers, agents and brokers, independent claims adjusters, and third-party administrators.
Employment in the general U.S. economy continues to be strong. In October 2017, on a year-over-year basis, employment in most major segments of the insurance industry was mixed to varying degrees, including a spike in independent claims adjusting.
For the 12 months ending October 2017, P/C carrier employment rose by 9,000 (+1.6 percent) to 568,300, despite drops of 3,900 in August and 4,100 in October. Employment in this segment in October is usually up. Since 1990 it rose 18 times and fell 10 times; the large drop in October 2017 is the largest one-month drop since at least 1990 (except for reclassifications in employment segments in 2004). From another perspective, in the 33 months since the low point of January 2015, employment in this segment has surged—up by 53,700 (+10.4 percent).
Employment by life/annuity carriers fell in October 2017 vs. October 2016 (down 700, or -0.2 percent) to 348,700. Employment in this segment has fallen in four of the last six months and five of the 10 months in 2017 (one other month had no gains or losses), but rose in October 2017 vs. September 2017 (up 1,600). It is hard to see longer-term employment trends in the BLS data for life/annuity carriers. This is because three times since March 2005, BLS has reclassified some employment that was previously in life/annuity carriers into other subsectors, making it hard to know what to use for a baseline. The most recent reclassification ended in March 2015. From then through October 2017, employment in the life/annuity a segment has generally risen from 318,500 to 348,700 (up 30,200, or 9.5 percent). It has remained close to 350,000 for 15 consecutive months.
For the 12 months ending October 2017, health carrier employment rose by 12,100 (+2.6 percent) to 479,000, The health carrier segment had been gaining jobs quite steadily for decades. However, as with the life/annuity carrier sector, the health carrier sector had a major reclassification beginning in March 2015, which reset the sector’s employment from 517,900 in March 2015 to 457,200 in March 2016. Since then, employment in this sector rose by 21,800 or +4.8 percent.
The agent/broker segment gained 5,700 jobs in October 2017 vs. October 2016 (up 0.7 percent) to 786,800. Employment growth in this category in the three years 2013 to 2015 was extremely strong. In March 2013 this segment employed 658,400, so that in 36 months, employment rose by 111,300, or 16.8 percent. More granularly, employment in this segment rose by 31,600 in 2013, by 52,300 in 2014, and by 27,400 in 2015. But the spurt slowed in 2016 (up by 7,800) and in 2017 (up by 3,400 in the 10 months of 2017). Some of the spurt might simply have been a recovery from the drop in employment in this segment in the years 2007 to 2011, when employment dropped from 667,200 in January 2007 to 642,500 in February 2011 (down by 24,700).
Among the smaller industry segments, reinsurance carrier employment in the U.S. was down by 300 to 24,700 in October 2017 vs. October 2016. Employment at independent claims-adjusting firms on a year-over-year basis for October 2017 rose by 3,800 to 62,900. This is due, as expected, to the hiring of 7,300 in September (up 12.8 percent over the August employment level) in the wake of the extensive destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and then a net reduction of 1,600 in October 2017 vs. September. Year-over-year employment in the category of third party administration of insurance funds fell by 200 (-0.1 percent) to 186,300. Employment in this category grew quite steadily for over two decades, but it has been virtually flat for the past two years. It is currently near an all-time peak, which was reached in December 2016 at 187,700.
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