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Turbulence in the American Workplace.

A rapid and sometimes tumultuous change has characterized the U.S. labor market in recent decades, often resulting in lost jobs, career disruption, and a slowdown in productivity growth. This change has "affected the welfare of the American workforce and has become a problem for national competitiveness," according to Peter B. Doeringer, author of Turbulence in the American Workplace.

The book consists of studies of key issues in labor market turbulence that were conducted by an interdisciplinary research team supported by the Committee on New American Realities of the National Planning Association, which Doeringer describes as a private sector group "promoting the achievement of a more competitive U.S. economy." Doeringer, an economist, directed the project and wrote the book's opening and concluding chapters; the other chapters were written by specialists in fields such as economics, environmental psychology, organizational behavior, collective bargaining, sociology, and management.

A few chapter titles provide a sampling of the problems the book addresses: "Labor Market Turbulence and the Older Worker," "Industrial Restructuring and Human Resource Preparedness in Unionized Settings," and "Restructuring Managerial and Professional Work in Large Corporations." As an economist, I was most interested in the book's labor force studies. A chapter on young adults in the labor force notes that a rising share of U.S. youth is raised in poverty, that teenagers raised in poverty are prone to literacy problems, and that in coming years the pool of young adults will include a greater proportion "who are poorly prepared for a labor market characterized by substantial turbulence, increased international competition, and rising skill requirements for the more highly paid occupations."

A chapter on displaced workers reports that a substantial fraction of such workers "bear disproportionate adjustment burdens," and that the proportion of America's jobless workers who receive unemployment insurance has fallen in recent years. A chapter titled, "The Two-Tiered Workforce in U.S. Corporations" analyzes the growing tendency of firms to use contingent workers, such as part-time employees, self-employed independent contractors, and agency temporaries. Some of the material is dated. For example, an analysis of the proportion of young adults in the U.S. population ends in 1986. Similarly out-of-date is the statement that "over the 1986-95 period, the nation's civilian labor force is projected to increase by only 1.2 percent annually." Why discuss a projection for a period that was more than half concluded when the book was published?

Although some of the issues are dated, the matters discussed in the book are gaining significance. A March 1991 Monthly Labor Review, article, for example, reported that the incidence of part-time employment is growing, due chiefly to labor market factors on the demand side, not the supply side. Similarly, a May 1991 Monthly Labor Review, article was titled "Worker displacement still common in the late 1980's," and the number of displaced workers in the Federal Government's January 1992 survey was 1.3 million higher than the number found two years earlier. More recently, a front page headline in the December 26, 1992, New York Times proclaimed, "Solid Jobs Seem to Vanish Despite Signs of Recovery."

The title of the book, in my mind, evokes images of the bomb blast in Haymarket Square in Chicago, the Homestead strike in Homestead, PA, and the organizing and agitating by the Industrial Workers of the World. The turbulence analyzed in this book is less dramatic than those labor struggles of a century ago, but its impact is likely to be felt for a long time. Turbulence in the American Workplace provides an excellent introduction to the tumultuous changes of the recent past.
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Steinberg, Edward
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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