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February 1991, Vol. 114, No. 2
Steven E. Hague and Joseph R. Meisenheimer
L abor market conditions deteriorated markedly during 1990, reflecting increasing weakness in the U.S. economy. Employment growth, which had begun to slow early in 1989, came to a standstill around mid-1990; employment then declined in the second half. The manufacturing and construction industries were hardest hit. Manufacturing employment fell throughout 1990, while large job losses in construction began around midyear. By the fourth quarter, the weakening demand for labor had spread to the service-producing sector, where employment in the trade and finance, insurance, and real estate industries turned downwards, and job growth in most other service-producing industries either came to a halt or slowed considerably.
Reflecting these developments, unemployment rose in the second half of 1990, following nearly 2 years of relative stability. The number of unemployed persons, at 7.4 million in the fourth quarter, was up by about 760,000 form a year earlier, and the unemployment rate, at 5.9 percent, rose by 0.6 percentage point. These increases might have been even greater had it not been for the extraordinarily slow labor force growth throughout the entire year, which served to reduce competition for jobs. The rise in unemployment occurred across all major labor force groups. The number of persons working part time even though they would have preferred full-time employment, sometimes used as a measure of underemployment, also increased in 1990, particularly in the second half of the year.
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