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February 1993, Vol. 116, No. 2
Samuel M. Ehrenhalt
S ince World War II, the United States has witnessed economic and social changes that seem to presage unique problems to be solved and opportunities to be seized as the Nation enters a new century.
In the economic arena, the country enjoyed robust growth during the 1950's and 1960's. The 1970's, however, ushered in two decades characterized by uncertainty, with periods of recession or stagnation alternating with years of respectable, even robust, economic performance. Many factors contributed to the bumpy ride experienced by the Nation over the past quarter-century, including energy shortages, stiff competition in international markets, and the declining relative importance of manufacturing in the economy.
New demographic and social developments accompanied these economic changes. During the mid-1960's, legislation at the national level paved the way for the political and economic empowerment of the country's ethnic minorities. The 1970's saw married women and mothers of young children entering the labor force in unprecedented numbers, creating demand for new types of social support organizations. During the same decade, the leading edge of the postwar baby boom entered their prime working years, and now are headed for retirement. The fact that birth cohorts following the baby-boomers are much smaller has important implications for the Nation's human resource base and for the future of old-age and medical entitlement programs. Finally, immigration to this country took on a different cast in recent decades, shifting from Eurocentric to larger shares of political refugees and of other groups from so called Third World or developing areas. While these new residents represent a potentially rich source of labor and entrepreneurial talent, they also pose a challenge to the country's traditional mechanisms for absorbing new citizens. This is especially true of the Nation's schools, which must supply American mores in addition to English proficiency and basic educational skills.
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 1993 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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