The Changing U.S. Population and the Future Labor Force

Article excerpt

The Changing U.S. Population and the Future Labor Force

The following article is an excerpt from the testimony given by Dr. Clogg March 20, 1991, before the House Subcommittee on Census and Population.

Demographers are in the business of studying trends, usually over the long term, in order to see what these trends imply for the future. Demographers typically study these trends in ways that differ from the approaches used by other social scientists. They ask how special groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, or women, are differentiated from each other and from some majority group. They ask questions about how experiences in youth, including schooling experiences, affect labor force activity, income, and productivity in later life.

They ask questions about the age distribution of the population or the labor force, or about the effect of increasing percentages of our population in older ages. They deal with internal migration and immigration and what these imply for the migrants, for the economy, and for the society at large.

They ask questions about poverty, under-employment, mortality risks, changes in families, changes in childbearing, and just about every other factor that can be thought of as a domestic policy issue in our time.

The overall theme today is how recent trends in population-related factors will shape our future labor force into the next century. What are some of the important recent trends? What is likely to happen in the next 20 years? What do these trends or projections signify for our nation's labor force? Will our future labor force be productive and competitive? Or, will it fall behind the labor forces of Japan, the East Asian Rim, or the United States of Europe? How can we educate and train for the future taking these trends into account? Finally, do our existing data bases serve our needs well? What new data should be collected to study both the scientific and the policy questions of the future?

Here are some of the demographic facts that provide a framework for the testimony of others. They are based on the latest available official projections provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Source: Howard N. Fullerton, Jr., "New Labor Force Projections, Spanning 1988 to 2000," Monthly Labor Review, Nov. 1989, pp. 3-12. New official projections of this sort will be available in November of this year.)

(1) The labor force will grow from about 126 million currently to over 141 million in the year 2000. The rate of growth in our nation's labor force will decline (1.2% per year from now to the year 2000) relative to the 1970s and 1980s (where it averaged about 2.0% per year). I think that the relatively slow growth in our labor force, compared to the growth from the 1950s through the 1970s, is an important fact. …