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February 1994, Vol. 117, No. 2
William G. Deming
U ntil the advent of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century, most nonagricultural workers were engaged in home-based work. Weavers labored on handlooms in their houses to produce cloth spun from raw wool. The blacksmith's forge, the baker's ovens, and the woodworker's shop were all located in their homes. In many cases, even the hired help lived where they worked, as apprentices generally were expected to live with their employers. But as mass production techniques reshaped the U.S. economy, industry moved out of the home and into the centralized factories where workers were employed on increasingly efficient and ever more automated production lines.
Home-based work has become such an exception that a return to "the old way" is news. Indeed, interest in the phenomenon has grown in recent years. Several towns in the rural west are even recruiting home-based businesses as an economic development strategy.1 The U.S. Supreme Court addressed home work issues in a January 1993 decision with far reaching implications for home-based professionals. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on a special supplement to the May 1991 Current Population Survey (CPS),2 are described in this article.
According to the CPS, approximately 20 million nonfarm employees were engaged in some work at home as part of their primary job in May 1991, representing 18.3 percent of those at work.3 (See table 1.) Men and Women tended to work at home at about the same rates, although women were more likely to work entirely at home. Other highlights of the 1991 survey results include:
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 1994 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 "Lone Eagles: The Ultimate Commuters," American Demographics, August 1993, pp. 10-14.
2 The Current Population Survey is a monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
3 Only persons who were "at work" during the survey reference week are included in the totals. Persons "with a job but not at work" for reasons such as bad weather, vacation, illness, or involvement in a labor dispute are excluded.
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