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September 1990, Vol. 113, No. 9

The 1980's: a decade of job growth and industry shifts

Lois M. Plunkert

The 1980's began with two recessions in 3 years and then posted the longest peacetime expansion on record. Although growth did slow as the decade came to a close, the service sector still added large numbers of jobs month after month.1

Not all industries experienced the prosperity of the 1980's. Many manufacturing and mining industries never recovered from the two recessions; others recovered their production levels, but did so with fewer workers. Growth also was uneven within service sector industries: 1 new job in 4 was in business or health services, while some service sector industries even lost jobs-notably, communications, railroads, and water transportation. Other industries, such as finance and special construction trade, that showed strong growth for most of the 10-year period were experiencing job losses or sluggish growth at the end of the decade. As a result of the interplay of job gains and losses among industries, the 1980's witnessed the shifting of another 6 percent of employment from the goods-producing to the service-producing sector. Just over three-fourths of all jobs are now in the service sector.

This continued shift of jobs into the service economy was not at the expense of manufacturing output, which remained at about 23 percent of GNP over the decade, while factory jobs dropped from 23 percent to 18 percent of employment. During the two recessions early in the decade, many marginal jobs were eliminated throughout the economy. Marginal plants were closed down, some permanently. With the start of the recovery in 1983, industry began to take on a leaner look. In an effort to compete in a worldwide market, many factories were modernized during the 1980's, with more and better machines enhancing workers' output. At the same time, the size of the labor force swelled: not only did the working-age population grow by 21.5 million, but a larger percentage of women entered the job market. As a result, women's participation in the labor force increased from 51 to 57 percent over the decade.

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1 Employment data used in this article are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, a monthly survey of the number of employees on nonfarm payrolls, their earnings, and hours for which they were paid. This article presents only employment data. Other CES data, including average hourly earnings and average weekly hours, are presented each month in the Bureau's publication, Employment and Earnings. Also included in this publication are data for most manufacturing and many non-manufacturing industries at the more detailed four-digit Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) level. State and area estimates are presented at the industry division level. Data are reported each month by a sample of over 300,000 establishments, and estimates are benchmarked annually to correspond with the complete counts of employment that are obtained primarily from administrative records of the Unemployment Insurance System. The data presented in this article have been reconciled with universe counts as of March for each year up to 1988, the most recent year for which data are available on the 1972 SIC codes. For a description of CES concepts and methodology, see BLS handbook of Methods, Bulletin 2285 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1988), chi. 2.

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