Employment Trends in the Insurance Industry

Dr. Steven Weisbart

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

On September 6, 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the U.S. economy had added 130,000 jobs (seasonally-adjusted) in August; and more than one-and-a-quarter million nonfarm jobs (actually 1,266,000) through the first eight months of 2019.[1]

Nonfarm employment has risen every month since October 2010—107 consecutive months and counting. Not every sector or industry has consistently added jobs in that span. Indeed, the diversity of the economy has seen robust job growth in some areas that offsets job losses in other areas. Job growth in the immediate wake of the Great Recession was to be expected but the trends in job growth and its persistence in recent years is surprising.

The insurance industry is a case in point. The insurance subindustry with the strongest employment gains in recent years is — not surprisingly—health and medical expense insurers, given the enactment and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But other insurance subindustries have shown unusual employment trends. For example, as Table 1 shows, both the property/casualty (P/C) and the life/annuity subindustries have generally shed employees.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Perhaps the most surprising row in Table 1 is the Agents & Brokers line. Pundits have been predicting for years that the agent/broker distribution channel is about to be replaced by newer methods of distribution. Obviously, that time has not come yet.

As for the P/C and life/annuity carriers, one might assume that the reductions result from automating routine functions, as has been the case in non-insurance industries, such as manufacturing. If this is the explanation, it translates to increased productivity (more work done with fewer employees), which is obviously a good thing.

[1]Two caveats pertain to this number: first, the July and August numbers are preliminary and are likely to be revised—often slightly—up or down, in the coming two months. Second, the overall benchmark revision, to take effect next winter, is likely to trim half a million jobs from the count for 2019, based on data from the Census Bureau. Even with these adjustments, employment kept growing in 2019.