By Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist
The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just published data as of March 2018 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 in our charts are not seasonally adjusted and are one month behind the national data; accordingly, the report released on May 4, 2018 provides national data for April 2018, and industry/sector-specific data for March 2018.) 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 March 2018, there were 2.3 million more people employed than a year earlier (+1.6 percent)—an unusually strong increase this late in the business cycle. In the service sector overall, employment was up by 1.4 percent year-over-year in March 2018. As for the insurance industry, on a year-over-year basis, employment in most major segments was up to varying degrees.
For the 12 months ending March 2018, P/C carrier employment rose by 2,300 (+0.6 percent) to 553,100. Employment in this subsector has remained in a narrow band, between 550,000 and 560,000 since the start of 2017. From another perspective, in the 50 months since the low point of January 2014, employment in this segment has risen by 39,600 (+7.7 percent).
Employment by life/annuity carriers fell in March 2018 vs. March 2017 (down 3,500, or -1.0 percent) to 346,600. Employment in this segment has fallen or was flat in eight of the last 12 months. Even so, it has remained in the range of 345,000 to 350,000 for 25 consecutive months.
For the 12 months ending in March 2018, health carrier employment rose by 13,100 (+2.6 percent) to 508,200. The health carrier segment had been gaining jobs quite steadily for decades. However, 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 51,000 or +11.1 percent.
The agent/broker segment gained 8,000 jobs from March 2018 over March 2017 (up 1.0 percent) to 808,100. However, in the month of March, employment fell by 600. A drop in March is not unusual for this category; in the 14 March months starting with 2005, employment fell 7 times and rose 7 times.
Among the smaller industry segments, reinsurance carrier employment in the U.S. was up by 600 in March 2018 vs. March 2017 to 26,300. After a long downward slide (from 45,000 in 1990 to 25,000 in 2012), U.S. reinsurance employment has stabilized at 25,000 to 26,000. Employment at independent claims-adjusting firms on a year-over-year basis for March 2018 fell by 1,000 to 58,600. This was due as expected, to returning to a more normal workforce after substantial hiring (7,300 in September 2017—up 12.8 percent over the August employment level) in the wake of the extensive destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Year-over-year employment in the category of third-party administration of insurance funds rose by 2,800 (1.5 percent) to 191,900. This category has grown quite steadily for more than two decades, though not as fast as employment at medical expense insurers. It was set back slightly by the Great Recession, but has generally added jobs since then. It is currently at an all-time peak.
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