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November 1993, Vol. 116, No. 11
The American Workforce, 1992 to 2005
Historical trends, 1950-92, and current uncertainties
Ronald E. Kutscher
The trends important for the Bureau of Labor Statistics labor force, economic, and employment projections are better understood if placed in historical perspective. To aid in that understanding, this article discusses important historical trends of the 1950-92 period. Because the 1992-2005 period will be affected not only by the historical trends, but also by more recent developments, it also presents economic and demographic uncertainties that currently exist which may have a significant impact in shaping the course of the future economy.
Over the 1950-80 period, the labor force expanded by more than 44 million persons, or by nearly 72 percent. More than half of that rapid expansion occurred in the decade of the seventies, when the labor force expanded by more than 24 million. (See table 1.) This 30-year period included several very important labor force developments, the most important being the impact of the entry of the baby-boom generation. The baby-boomersópersons who were born between 1946 and 1964óbegan entering the labor force in the 1960's. In several years in the late 1970's, the labor force was growing by 3 million annually, primarily because of this group.
After the very rapid growth of the 1970's, a slower rate of labor force growth began in the 1980's. The labor force expanded by about 17 percent during the 1980-90 period, compared with a 29-percent increase in the previous decade. This slowdown reflected the fact that by the early 1980's nearly all of the baby-boom generation who were to enter the labor force had already done so. The smaller cohort, sometimes called the baby-bust generationóthose born between the end of the baby-boom period (or 1965) and the late 1970'sówas beginning to enter into the labor force. This slower rate of growth still added up to a significant expansion of the labor force. There were 20 million more persons in the labor force in 1992 than in 1980.
This excerpt is from an article published in the November 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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