Workers and Worker Power

In the spring of 2013 the civilian labor force in the United States was comprised of 155.2 million workers.[1] The economic behaviors of workers are influenced by incentives such as wages and salaries. In the American economy the forces of supply and demand determine the wages for most workers. Laws and other government regulations also influence some wages. Over time labor power in the United States grew significantly due to labor activism, prolabor legislation, and changing attitudes among employers about their responsibilities to employees. In recent years right to work laws and the offshoring of some production have affected worker power in some labor markets.

WORKERS AND WORKER BEHAVIOR

Labor, or human resources, represents the human input in production. Labor is generally considered the most important input, or factor, of production. Without labor other factors of production, such as capital goods and natural resources, would remain idle and nonproductive. Some labor is mainly manual, including many types of jobs in construction, manufacturing, mining, and agriculture. Other labor is mainly intellectual, including many jobs in education, law, medicine, and engineering. The labor of entrepreneurs is instrumental in the creation of new businesses, the wellspring of jobs for many workers. Economists sometimes view entrepreneurship as a fourth factor of production. From an economic perspective, labor mobilizes the other inputs and in exchange expects monetary compensation, usually in the form of a wage or salary.

U.S. Labor Force

The labor force in the United States consists of individuals who are 16 years of age or older and who are either employed or actively seeking a job. In the spring of 2013 the civilian labor force numbered 155.2 million workers, of which 143.6 million were employed and 11.6 million were unemployed. The employment rate, or percentage of the labor force that had a job, was 92.5 percent. The unemployment rate, or percentage of the labor force without a job, was 7.5 percent.[2] The U.S. labor force experienced phenomenal growth over the past century, climbing from 28.5 million in 1900 to 155 million in 2013.[3] Table 6.1 shows the dramatic growth of the U.S. civilian labor force, by decade,

New technologies have created more flexible work environments, including opportunities to work from home

New technologies have created more flexible work environments, including opportunities to work from home.(Mudplucker)

since 1950. It also shows the labor force participation rate, or percentage of the working age population in the labor force, during the same period.[4] Note that the U.S. population roughly doubled during this 60-year period, and the labor force increased by more than 90 million workers.

To create a profile of the American labor force, economists often categorize workers by job type, gender, educational background, or other characteristic. One characteristic of the U.S. labor force is the dominant position of service sector jobs. In 2012 the nonfarm services-providing industries employed about 82 percent of all workers in the private sector of the economy. Important job categories within the services-providing sector include

Table 6.1 U.S. Population and Labor Force, 1950–2010

Year

U.S. Population (millions)

Adult Population (millions)

Labor Force (millions)

Labor Force Participation Rate

1950

151

107

62

58.3

1960

179

117

70

59.4

1970

203

137

83

60.4

1980

227

168

107

63.8

1990

249

189

126

66.5

2000

281

210

141

67.2

2010

309

238

154

64.7

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, “No. 1,” No. 560,” “No. 561,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2002 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 2001, 8, 367; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Table 1,” “Table 586,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012, 8, 377; Ben J. Wattenberg, Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present, Series D11-25 (New York: Basic Books), 1976, 127–128.

Employment of the U.S. Labor Force

Figure 6.1 Employment of the U.S. Labor Force, 1900

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, The Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present, 139.

transportation and public utilities, wholesale and retail trade, finance and insurance, real estate, and a wide variety of other services in the realms of health, entertainment, business maintenance, law, education, auto repair, and others. In addition, most public sector, or government jobs also provided services such as mail delivery, education, and law enforcement.

The goods-producing sector accounted for 16 percent of all nonfarm private sector jobs in 2012. The main goods-producing industries are associated with manufacturing, construction, and mining. The agricultural sector employed the remaining 2 percent of jobs in the farming, dairying, fishing, and forestry industries in 2012. Today, some economists categorize agriculture as a subset of the goods-producing sector.

The Labor Department predicts that 20.5 million new jobs will be created between 2010 and 2020—18 million in the services-providing industries and the remainder in goods-producing and agricultural industries. This distribution of jobs in 2012 is contrasted with U.S. employment patterns during the early twentieth century in Figure 6.1 and Figure 6.2.[5]

A second feature of the U.S. labor force is the growing importance of women workers in American labor markets. The expanding role for women in the labor force is best illustrated by comparing the labor force participation rate for men and women over time. For example, in early 2013 the overall labor force participation rate for all working age people was 63.3 percent, which meant that nearly two-thirds of all working age Americans were in the labor force. Reported by gender, the participation rate for men was about 70 percent and for women about 57 percent. The participation rate was far wider between men and women in the past, however, as shown in Table 6.2.[6]

A third feature of the U.S. labor force is the high educational level of American workers. The educational attainment of American workers increased dramatically over the past

Employment of the U.S. Labor Force

Figure 6.2 Employment of the U.S. Labor Force, 2012

Source: U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Employment Situation—April 2012, Table A-8,” May 4, 2012.

century. For example, in 1900 just 6 percent of the general population had earned a high school diploma. By 2010, 87 percent of all Americans were at least high school graduates, and 30 percent of the adult population had earned a four-year college degree or more.[7] Similarly, the educational attainment by the U.S. labor force increased steadily during the past century. By 2013 about 91.7 percent of all employed workers aged 25 years or older had earned at least a high school diploma, and more than one-third of these workers had earned a bachelor's degree or higher. Economists view education as a key factor in developing a society's human capital—the acquired skills or competencies held by workers. Table 6.3 shows the educational attainment of American workers in 2013.[8] Note that workers with higher levels of education are more likely to find employment than lesser educated workers.

A fourth feature of the American labor force is its growing flexibility. In recent years workers have had greater choice in determining the time and location of their employment. For example, the number of full-time workers on flexible schedules more than doubled from 1985 to 2004, climbing from 12.4 million workers to 27 million during this period.

Table 6.2 U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate by Gender, 1900–2013

Women Men

Year

Number (1000s)

Participation Rate

Number (1000s)

Participation Rate

1900

5,319

18.8

30,092

80.0

1950

18,389

33.9

43,819

83.7

2013

72,617

57.2

82,621

69.8

Source: U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table A-1,” The Employment SituationApril 2013, May 3, 2013; Ben J. Wattenberg, Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present, Series D1125 (New York: Basic Books), 1976, 127–128

Table 6.3 Educational Attainment and Employment Status, April 2013

Educational Attainment Number in Civilian Labor Force (1000s) Percentage of Labor Force Unemployment Rate
Less than high school diploma 11,072 8.3 11.4
High school graduate, no college 36,224 27.0 7.2
Some college or an associate degree 37,058 27.7 6.0
Bachelor’s degree and higher 49,663 37.0 3.6

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table A-4: Educational Status of the Civilian Population 25 Years and over by Educational Attainment,” News Release, May 3, 2013.

Flexible schedules typically allow workers to start and end their workdays at nonstandard times. By the early 2000s the highest concentrations of workers that benefited from flexible work schedules were employed in private sector managerial and professional occupations or in public sector jobs at the federal or state levels. In addition, in the early 2000s about 20 million workers opted to perform at least some of their regular work at their homes rather than the factory, office, or other workplace. New technology supported this trend toward work in the home. By the early 2000s about 80 percent of those who did some work at home used a computer, and most also used email or the Internet while working at home.[9]

  • [1] U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “The Employment Situation, April 2013, Table A-1: Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex and Age,” News Release, May 3, 2013
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ben J. Wattenberg, “Series D 1-10: Labor Force and Its Components, 1900 to 1947,” Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 126; DOL, Occupational Outlook Handbook: 2012–2013 Edition, 2012
  • [4] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “No. 1: Population and Area, 1790 to 2000,” “No. 560: Employment Status of the Civilian Population, 1960 to 2001,” “No. 561: Civilian Labor Force Participation Rates, with Projections, 1980 to 2010,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2002 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office), 2001, 8, 367; Ben J. Wattenberg, “Series D 11-25: Labor Force Status of the Population, 1870 to 1970,” Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 127-128; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), “Table 586: Civilian Population: Employment Status, 1970 to 2010,” “Table 1: Population and Area, 1790 to 2010,” 377, 8.
  • [5] Ben J. Wattenberg, Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 139; DOL, Occupational Outlook Handbook: 2012–2013 Edition; DOL/BLS, “The Employment Situation, March 2012, Table B-1: Employees on Nonfarm Payrolls by Industry Sector and Selected Detail,” April 6, 2012; DOL, “The Employment Situation, April 2012, Table A-8: Employed Persons by Class of Worker and Part-Time Status,” News Release, May 4, 2012
  • [6] DOL/BLS, “The Employment Situation, April 2013, Table A-1: Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex and Age,” News Release, May 3, 2013; Ben J. Wattenberg, “Series D 11-25: Labor Force Status of the Population, 1870 to 1970,” Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 126-127.
  • [7] Ben J. Wattenberg, “Series H 598-601: High School Graduates, by Sex, 1870 to 1970,” Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 379; U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 229: Educational Attainment by Race and Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 2010,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 151.
  • [8] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table A-4: Educational Status of the Civilian Population 25 Years and over by Educational Attainment,” Economic News Release, May 3, 2013
  • [9] DOL/BLS, “Workers on Flexible and Shift Schedules in 2001 Summary,” BLS News, April 18, 2002; DOL/BLS, “Work at Home in 2001,” BLS News, March 1, 2002; DOL/BLS, “Workers on Flexible and Shift Schedules in May 2004,” News, July 1, 2005
 
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