February 1998, Vol. 121, No. 2
Labor month in review
Union membership edges down
Career guidance books
The February Review
It was supposed to be much easier than this. Once the huge baby-boom generation had passed into the labor force, successor generations would presumably be easier for the market to digest. Thus, Generation X, roughly speaking persons born between the end of the baby boom and 1982, have been rapped for crying wolf about their hard luck getting established in careers.
Our special section on the economic condition of young adults contains evidence that todays young adults are facing transitions at least as difficult as those that daunted the baby boom. Kurt Schrammel examines todays labor market for young adults with that of roughly two decades ago and finds things have certainly not improved. Median inflation-adjusted weekly earnings for 25- to 34-year-olds were 15 percent lower in 1996 than they had been in 1979 and relative to the earnings of all adults had fallen from 95 percent to 89 percent. Some of this can be attributed to shifts in the occupational structure of young adult employment and some to lower relative earnings in almost every occupational group.
Geoffrey Paulin and Brian Riordan also look at the condition of Generation X, but in terms of income and spending. Their findings mirror the findings on earnings and occupational statusin terms of a variety of measures, todays young, single adults appear to be less well off than their counterparts in 197273 or 1984-85. Making it on ones own is perhaps now more difficult, not easier.
A pair of papers in the December issue demonstrated how sensitive research on earnings inequality can be to changes in assumptions and technique; neither directly addressed the more difficult issue of the sources of change in the distribution of wages. While focused on the more general topic of jobs in the services industry division, Joseph R. Meisenheimer finds that they encompass an increasingly diverse collection of occupations, working conditions, and wages. Combining Meisenheimers finding with the fact that the share of jobs in the services division is growing could lead to the thesis that compositional factors may be important. Cleveland Fed economist Mark E. Schweitzer, in the Economic Review article briefed in Précis on page 69, finds, however, that while the trend in the industry component is rising, other factors seem to be much more important.
The U.S. labor market enjoyed a very strong year in 1997. Randy E. Ilg and Angela Clinton chart accelerating job creation, declining unemployment, and rising wages. They report that the unemployment rate in the final quarter of 1997 was the lowest in 28 years and that real earnings reached their highest level yet in the 1990s.
Union membership edges down
The share of workers who are union members continued to decline in 1997. Union members were 14.1 percent of wage and salary workers in 1997, compared with 14.5 percent in 1996. The union membership rate has fallen steadily from 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available. About 9.4 million union members in 1997 were employed in private nonagricultural industries, where they accounted for slightly less than 10 percent of employment. Another 6.7 union members worked in Federal, State, or local government, accounting for 37.2 percent of government employment. An additional 1.8 million workers were represented by a union while not being union members themselves.
Among industries, transportation and public utilities had the highest union membership rate at 26.5 percent. Construction and manufacturing also had higher-than-average union membership rates. The lowest union membership rates were reported among agricultural workers (1.9 percent) and workers in finance, insurance, and real estate (2.4 percent).
For additional information, consult Union Members in 1997, USDL 982 (U.S. Department of Labor), Jan. 30, 1998.
Career guidance books
For more than 50 years, the Occupational Outlook has helped jobseekers sift through complex information on the work force of today, with an eye towards the future. The 199899 Occupational Outlook Handbook provides information about the nature of the work and the usual working conditions for about 250 occupations. In addition, it gives details on the requirements for entry and the opportunities for advancement. Job outlook sections discuss prospects over the next decade, easing comparison between different fields.
A companion volume, the 199899 edition of the Career Guide to Industries (Bulletin 2503) shifts the point of view, examining job opportunities from an occupational to an industry perspective.
Copies of the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the Career Guide to Industries can be purchased from the BLS Publications Sales Center, P. O. Box 2145, Chicago, IL 606902145, phone (312) 3531880. The Occupational Outlook Handbook in soft cover costs $42; hard cover, $46. The Career Guide to Industries costs $17.
The March Review
Next months issue will feature articles on Hispanics, measuring poverty, earnings of college graduates, and the emergence of the multimedia and visual effects industry in California.
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