High-Technology Employment: A Broader View

By Hecker, Daniel | Monthly Labor Review, June 1999 | Go to article overview

High-Technology Employment: A Broader View


Hecker, Daniel, Monthly Labor Review


High technology employment, 14 percent of total employment, is projected to grow much faster than in the past due to employment gains in high-tech services and among suppliers to computer and electronic components manufacturers

High technology enjoys high visibility. Industry developments are tracked closely in the United States and abroad and the implications for productivity, international competitiveness, national defense, and the general standard of living are of increasing interest.(1) This statement, presented in a 1983 Monthly Labor Review article, is still true, as is clear from a number of recent pronouncements. For example, according to the testimony of Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, dramatic improvements in computing power and communication and information technology are resulting in higher rates of productivity growth and higher real wages, and are helping to control costs.(2) Also, a 1998 National Science Foundation report describes the success of U.S. high-tech industries in foreign markets.(3) Other recent publications report that biotechnology is revolutionizing medicine, agriculture, and environmental fields; miniaturization and new materials are likely to bring major changes in manufacturing, and automobiles are incorporating even more advanced technology.(4) These developments, which suggest that high technology is creating many jobs in the economy, prompted this review of employment trends.

Three previously published articles in the Review presented definitions of high-technology industries and occupations and analyzed employment trends and projections.(5) Based on current data, this article updates the lists of

high-tech industries used in those articles. It also uses an expanded concept of high-tech employment consisting of three categories. The first category, similar to the earlier concept used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes all employment in industries defined as high technology. The second category includes employment in non-high-tech industries, generated by the purchases of goods and services by high-tech industries for use as inputs to their production processes. This high-tech-generated employment is included because it, like employment in high-tech industries, is derived from the demand for the goods and services produced by high-tech industries.

The third category is an effort to account for the substantial high-tech activity in industries that do not qualify, based on generally accepted criteria, as high tech, or are not suppliers to high-tech industries. While it is not possible to identify all employment in high-tech activities, it is possible to count employment of all scientists, engineers, and technicians--workers who create and apply new technologies--regardless of their industry of employment. This category, therefore, includes all scientists, engineers, and technicians in non-high-tech industries, except for those already included because of employment generated by purchases of high-tech industries.(6)

Based on this concept, this article identifies the number of workers employed in high-tech activities in 1996. It also shows high-technology employment in 1986, its projections for 2006, and its growth over the 1986-96 and 1996-2006 periods. Because high tech is often depicted as a source of "good jobs," information also is presented on earnings in high-tech industries and occupations. Much of the data in the analysis is based on information developed by BLS in producing the 1996-2006 employment projections. Those projections are published in a series of articles in the November 1997 Monthly Labor Review.(7)

Definitions and data

The term "high tech" is used very broadly to describe not only industries, but also occupations and products. There is fairly wide agreement on the general characteristics of high-technology industries and the criteria for developing lists of such industries.

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