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July 1993, Vol. 116, No. 7
Industry employment and the 1990-91 recession
Christopher J. Singleton
The Nation's longest peacetime expansion officially ended in July 1990 as the economy entered its first downturn since the 1981-82 period. Nonfarm employment had peaked a month earlier, in June 1990, and then fell in 10 consecutive months. Nearly1.5 million jobs - 1 ½ percent of the work force - were lost through April 1991.1 The labor market subsequently improved in relative terms during mid-1991, as the job losses became smaller and less persistent. Employment finally reached a low point in February 1992, but the job recovery remained fairly modest through the remainder of the year.
Although generally milder than the typical postwar recession, the 1990-91 downturn was exacerbated by several external factors such as the Persian Gulf crisis, the savings and loan collapse, and continued job cutbacks as a result of lower defense spending. Furthermore, a renewed emphasis on efficiency and cost containment prompted firms, particularly large firms, to restructure their work forces. Reflecting the increased competitive environment confronting many companies, the phenomenon has tampered the recovery of lost jobs. Also, healthy growth in labor productivity, to some extent, has mitigated against the need to rapidly expand industry work forces.
This article details the job performance of nonfarm industries during the 1990-91 recession, both as officially delineated and over specific cycles corresponding to their employment downturns and subsequent recoveries. The experiences of industries during the recession also are compared with those of prior recessions. In addition, the effect of the recession on several of the economy's key markets is examined.
This excerpt is from an article published in the July 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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1 Employment data are from the Current Employment Statistics survey and appeared in Employment, Hours and Earnings, 1981-93, March 1992 Benchmark Revisions and Historical Corrections (Bureau of Labor Statistics, forthcoming). The temporary Census Bureau workers hired and dismissed in 1990 are excluded form all data.
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