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Occupational entrants in 1990-91.

About 19.7 million Americans employed in January 1991 - 17.2 percent of all workers - had entered their current occupations during the previous 12 months. Slightly more than one-half were not working the previous January, having been either unemployed or outside the labor force; the remainder were working in a different occupation. This article, based on data collected in January 1991 for the Current Population Survey (CPS), discusses differences in the kinds of occupations workers entered with regard to age, sex, education, hours worked, and experience in the occupation. Information is given for the major occupational groups and detailed occupations.

Major Occupational Groups

The proportion of workers who were employed in January 1991 and had entered their occupations in the previous 12 months varied greatly among different groups. (See table 1.) As expected, people entering an occupation were likely to be younger, less educated, part-time workers without experience in their occupations. More women than men were new to their jobs, largely a result of the return to the labor force of many mothers. In addition. because occupations with low pay have high turnover, entrants are a large proportion of the workers in the occupational groups having lower than average earnings: Service; sales; operator, fabricator, and laborer; administrative support including clerical: and farming, forestry, and fishing.



About 44 percent of workers aged 16 to 24 were new to their occupations compared to only 7 percent of workers aged 55 and older. Young people have high entry rates primarily for two reasons: 1) many of them are in their first jobs - 71 percent of 16- to 19-year-old entrants were not working a year earlier; 2) young people generally have less need than older persons for stable employment and can therefore change occupations more frequently. Young workers also are more likely to prefer or be willing to accept jobs that are part time or temporary. For example, students may change part-time jobs to accommodate class schedules or vacation plans. Other young workers may take different temporary jobs as a means of helping them decide on a career. The high entry rates also result from the rapid turnover that characterizes the occupations young people can enter.

Although workers aged 25 to 34 accounted for 29 percent of total employment in January 1991, making them almost twice as numerous as workers under age 25, fewer of them had recently entered their occupations. However, they usually outnumbered younger entrants in jobs that required postsecondary education or several years of on-the-job training.

Workers 35 to 54 years old made up 44 percent of employment but less than 27 percent of entrants. Nevertheless, this age group stood out as a source of entrants to executive, administrative, and managerial jobs.

Naturally, occupational entry diminishes with age. After experimenting with different jobs, workers tend to settle into career paths, and occupational changes become less frequent. The longer people have worked in a field, the more likely they are to remain in it until retirement, because a change in occupations could mean not only a cut in pay but also the loss of seniority and pension rights. For example, only 34 percent of workers aged 55 and older were entrants because they had changed their occupations, compared to 53 percent of workers aged 25 to 54. Instead of being in a different job a year earlier, most older entrants were either unemployed or not seeking work.


Women were more likely than men to be recent occupational entrants. (See table 2.) About 10.3 million (20 percent) of the women employed in January 1991 had entered their occupations in the previous 12 months, compared to 9.4 million (15 percent) of the men. Among both sexes, entry rates were equally high for teenagers and declined with age, but the decline was less rapid for women. The difference results largely because many mothers who had left jobs to care for their families returned to the labor force.


In general, men entered jobs that already employed large numbers of men, and women entered jobs that already employed large numbers of women. Regardless of gender, however, entrants.were more likely than all other workers to be in occupations with the lowest earnings. Among women, for example, low-paying service jobs accounted for almost 24 percent of entrants compared to only 16 percent of all other workers.


The kinds of occupations entered by jobseekers depended on their education. (See table 3.) The likelihood of entry into three major occupational groups increased steadily with education: Executive, administrative, and managerial; professional specialty; and technician and related support. On the other hand, the likelihood of entry into three other major occupational groups decreased steadily with education: Service; farming, forestry, and fishing; and operators, fabricators, and laborers. Patterns were mixed or showed little change in the remaining major occupational groups.


In general, occupational groups that were the largest sources of jobs for entrants who had not finished high school also were the largest sources of jobs for those who had finished. However, high school graduates were almost three times as likely as persons with less education to enter administrative support occupations. Moreover, high school graduates were more likely to find jobs in the better paying occupations in other groups. In the operator-fabricator-laborer group, for example, graduates more frequently became heavy truckdrivers and assemblers, and less educated workers more often became laborers or stock handlers and baggers.

Of the 4.5 million entrants who had 1 to 3 years of college, almost three-fifths worked in sales, service, and administrative support occupations, which was about the same as the proportion of workers with 4 years of high school who entered these occupations. Another one-fifth of the entrants who had some college, however, were in managerial, professional specialty, and technician jobs, compared to less than one-tenth of those who were high school graduates. Persons with some college made up a disproportionate share of the new workers in many occupations, including registered nurse, computer systems analyst, computer programmer, insurance sales worker, motor vehicle sales worker, general office supervisor, and postal clerk.

College graduates - 17 percent of all entrants - are much more likely than less educated workers to obtain jobs in the high-paying, high-status professional specialty and managerial groups. They were more than half of the entrants to these occupations. Coincidentally, of the college graduates who entered the labor force, somewhat more than half entered these occupations.

Hours of Work

Workers in part-time jobs accounted for less than 35 percent of all entrants. However, they made up 54 percent of those who entered service occupations and 45 percent of those who entered sales occupations.

Part-time workers were almost three times as likely as full-time workers to be new to their jobs. Most of the part-time entrants to occupations were young people or women. Combined, the two groups made up 87 percent of total entrants in part-time jobs, and young people alone made up 54 percent.

Students filled more part-time jobs than young people who were not in school. The 7.6 million occupational entrants under age 25 included 3.3 million who were enrolled in school, almost 2.8 million of whom worked part time. Of the remaining 4.3 million young entrants who were not enrolled, fewer than 1 million worked part time.


Almost 30 percent of the 19.7 million persons who entered an occupation between January 1990 and January 1991 had worked in the occupation sometime prior to January 1990. Workers who had previous experience in high- to moderately high-paying occupations were most likely to return to the field they had left. The proportion of reentrants was higher than average among professional specialty workers; executives, administrators, and managers; and precision production, craft, and repair workers.

Almost 71 percent of all entrants had no previous experience in their jobs. Many of the occupations with the largest proportions of inexperienced workers were in low-paying service jobs.

Age increases the likelihood of entrants having previous work experience in their occupations. Less than one-tenth of those 16 to 19 years old were returning to an occupation they had worked in before, compared to almost one-half of those aged 55 and older. Many of the older entrants probably retired and then reentered the labor force.

Detailed Occupations

Entrants in some occupational groups were highly concentrated in certain detailed occupations. Of the 4.1 million persons who entered the service group, for example, almost one-half were janitors, cooks, waiters, waitresses, or child-care workers. Almost one-half of the 3.5 million persons who entered the operator-fabricator-laborer group were truckdrivers, stock handlers, assemblers, and laborers. About one-third of the 3.3 million new workers in administrative support jobs were secretaries, receptionists, computer operators, and bookkeepers and accounting clerks. Cashiers alone represented almost one-third of the 3 million entrants in sales occupations.

The evident differences in entrance rates by age, education, hours worked, and experience for the major occupational groups are even more apparent when detailed occupations are studied. Table 4 shows the number of entrants - as well as their ages, hours, and experience in the occupation - for all occupations that had at least 40,000 entrants.



The variety of opportunities available to young job seekers is limited because they lack training and work experience and frequently seek only part-time or temporary employment. The 25 detailed occupations in chart 1 accounted for almost 47 percent of the 7.6 million entrants who were ages 16 to 24.

Persons younger than 25 years old were the largest supply of new workers in many of these 25 occupations; they accounted for three-fourths or more of those who entered jobs as food counter workers, stock handlers and baggers, waiters' and waitresses' assistants, and garage and service station workers. Young people were also well over one-half of the entrants in many other occupations, including cashier, apparel sales worker, bank teller, and waiter and waitress.

While the 5.8 million entrants aged 25 to 34 made up only 29 percent of the entrants in all occupations, they accounted for a much greater proportion of the total in many detailed occupations, including industrial machinery repairer (52 percent); insurance adjuster, examiner, and investigator (52 percent); and computer systems analyst and scientist (51 percent). They also made up almost one-half of the new workers in several other occupations, including secondary school teacher, drafting occupations, heavy truckdriver, and plumber.

Entrants aged 35 to 54 were only 27 percent of the total. But they accounted for 62 percent of those who were administrators and officials in education and related fields; 50 percent of those who were financial managers; and 49 percent of those who were personnel, training, and labor relations specialists. Some other occupations with large shares of entrants from this age group were designer, elementary school teacher, licensed practical nurse, electrical and electronic equipment assembler, and textile sewing machine operator.

Like the youngest entrants, the oldest entrants were occupationally concentrated. Chart 2 shows the 25 detailed occupations entered by the largest numbers of workers aged 55 and older. About 47 percent of the 1.1 million entrants in this age group went into these occupations. Although workers aged 55 and older made up only 5 percent of entrants in all occupations, they were 42 percent of those who became farmers, 34 percent of those who became managers of properties and real estate, and 28 percent of those who became hardware sales workers. The farmers may include individuals with family farms who have retired from other kinds of jobs.


Chart 3 shows the 25 occupations most frequently entered by those who had not finished high school. These occupations accounted for 56 percent of these entrants. Even more notably, the top 10 detailed occupations alone accounted for 37 percent of them.

People with less than a high school education were the largest supply of new workers in some occupations. Although they made up only one-fifth of all entrants, they accounted for roughly one-half of those who became food counter workers, stock handlers and baggers, waiters' and waitresses' assistants, construction laborers, and farm workers.

High school graduates made up 40 percent of all entrants and even greater proportions of the new workers in many occupations, including almost two-thirds of the assemblers, more than one-half of the heavy truckdrivers and carpenters, and almost one-half of the secretaries and receptionists.

Chart 4 shows the 25 occupations most frequently entered by college graduates. These occupations accounted for 38 percent of the 3.4 million entrants who had 4 years of college or more.

College graduates were by far the largest source of workers in professional specialty occupations, being 66 percent of all the workers who entered this group. The college graduates accounted for much greater proportions of those who entered jobs that generally have degree requirements, such as lawyer and secondary school teacher.

Hours Worked and Experience

Part-time workers made up very large proportions of entrants in food service jobs, such as food counter worker and waiter and waitress, and in retail sales jobs, such as apparel sales worker and cashier.

The majority of new workers in most occupations had no previous experience in their occupations and, in some cases, almost all new workers were inexperienced. More than 90 percent of the food counter workers had no previous experience; neither did 95 percent of the health aides.

A nearly opposite pattern emerged, however, in some occupations. For example, one-half of the individuals who entered jobs as registered nurses had previous experience in the same occupation, as did almost 70 percent of those who took jobs as secondary school teachers. Reentry rates were also high in the building trades. For example, more than one-half the plumbers, electricians, and construction supervisors had previous experience. Because building activity fluctuates with economic conditions, construction workers time and again reenter their occupations after periods of unemployment. Economic conditions also may be a reason for high reentry rates among both farm owners and their employees, who may alternate between farming and work in other industries such as construction and manufacturing.

When looking for occupations that offer many openings for workers without experience in the field, it is important to consider not only the proportion of inexperienced workers employed but also the total number of entrants. Some large occupations provided many more openings than did smaller ones, even though the smaller occupation was entered primarily by inexperienced workers. For example, the proportion of carpenters who did not have experience in the occupation (48 percent.) was much smaller than the proportion of inexperienced bakers (93 percent). But more than 100,000 workers without experience as carpenters found new jobs in that occupation, while only 41,000 inexperienced bakers entered that field.
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Author:Berman, Jay M.
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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