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The changing U.S. population and the future labor force.

The Changing U.S. Population and the Future Labor Force

The following article is an excerpt from the testimony given by Dr. Clogg March 20, 1991, before the House Subcommittee on Census and Population.

Demographers are in the business of studying trends, usually over the long term, in order to see what these trends imply for the future. Demographers typically study these trends in ways that differ from the approaches used by other social scientists. They ask how special groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, or women, are differentiated from each other and from some majority group. They ask questions about how experiences in youth, including schooling experiences, affect labor force activity, income, and productivity in later life.

They ask questions about the age distribution of the population or the labor force, or about the effect of increasing percentages of our population in older ages. They deal with internal migration and immigration and what these imply for the migrants, for the economy, and for the society at large.

They ask questions about poverty, under-employment, mortality risks, changes in families, changes in childbearing, and just about every other factor that can be thought of as a domestic policy issue in our time.

The overall theme today is how recent trends in population-related factors will shape our future labor force into the next century. What are some of the important recent trends? What is likely to happen in the next 20 years? What do these trends or projections signify for our nation's labor force? Will our future labor force be productive and competitive? Or, will it fall behind the labor forces of Japan, the East Asian Rim, or the United States of Europe? How can we educate and train for the future taking these trends into account? Finally, do our existing data bases serve our needs well? What new data should be collected to study both the scientific and the policy questions of the future?

Here are some of the demographic facts that provide a framework for the testimony of others. They are based on the latest available official projections provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Source: Howard N. Fullerton, Jr., "New Labor Force Projections, Spanning 1988 to 2000," Monthly Labor Review, Nov. 1989, pp. 3-12. New official projections of this sort will be available in November of this year.)

(1) The labor force will grow from about 126 million currently to over 141 million in the year 2000. The rate of growth in our nation's labor force will decline (1.2% per year from now to the year 2000) relative to the 1970s and 1980s (where it averaged about 2.0% per year). I think that the relatively slow growth in our labor force, compared to the growth from the 1950s through the 1970s, is an important fact. We do not face a shortfall in labor supply like some of our competitors face. On balance, I think that it is better to have slower growth in our labor force compared to the more rapid growth in the 1960-1980 period.

(2) Our labor force will become older, or at least more concentrated in the 35-54 age group. Early in the next century we will face a major problem as the baby boom cohorts--those born between 1945 and 1960--reach retirement age. In 1976, about 24.0% of our labor force was age 16-24; in the year 2000, only about 16.0% of our labor force will come from this group. It is likely that our attention will shift to labor force conditions of middle-aged or older workers in the foreseeable future, including education and training or retraining for these workers. The absolute number of persons in the labor force aged 16-24, a very critical period where workforce behavior begins, will stay about the same well into the next century. While we still need to be sensitive to the special needs of young labor force members, it is possible that we should turn more of our attention to other age groups. For example, many demographers are very interested in employment problems for middle-aged or older workers.

(3) The male labor force will continue to grow, reaching about 74 million in the year 2000, but the growth rate will slow (less than 1.0% growth per year in projected into the next century). The female labor force will grow even more, to about 67 million (a 1.7% growth per year is projected). Early in the next century our workforce will be approximately evenly split between males and females. For every 100 male workers, there will be about 91 female workers. Women will become an even greater factor in our nation's productivity than at present. I think that this is one of the most significant of all labor force trends since the Second World War.

(4) The racial and ethnic mix of our labor force will continue to change and will become more diverse. In the year 2000, about 84.0% of the labor force will be white (compared to 86.0% in 1988), about 12.0% will be black (compared to 11.0% in 1988), and 4.0% will be Asian or other races (compared to 3.0% in 1988). Hispanics, who may be of any race, will have grown to be about 10.0% of our labor force, compared to a little over 4.0% in the mid-1970s and about 7.0% in 1988. One challenge facing our society is to ensure equitable opportunities for these minority groups, partly because we can ill afford a condition where the productive capacity of Hispanics or non-whites is not utilized.

Dr. Clifford C. Clogg is the chair of the Committee on Population Statistics of the Population Association of America.
COPYRIGHT 1991 University of Memphis
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clogg, Clifford C.
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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