The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

17
WHITE-COLLAR AND PROFESSIONAL
WORKERS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

The clear trend in the United States during the twentieth century has been the relative expansion of nonproductive jobs and the contraction of goods-producing jobs. This expansion of nonproductive work is in part a consequence of America's increased capacity to produce, since it enables our society to support the growing managerial, professional, service, sales, administrative, financial, and white-collar sectors of our work force. It is also in part a result of the growing bureaucratization of work organizations that are monitored and controlled by an army of office workers, managers, and administrators. Huge bureaucracies have been created in private industry, government, education, health, service, and leisure industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups nonproduction workers into three broad categories: managerial and professional; technical, sales, and administrative support; and service occupations. In 1992 these three categories comprised 78 percent of the work force. The other two broad categories that made up the productive sectors of the work force, precision, production, craft, and repair; and operators, fabricators and laborers, comprised 22 percent of the work force.

Although nonproductive workers do not produce goods, their work is indispensable to an industrial society. Without workers to produce and process paperwork, make up payrolls, type letters, answer phones, send out invoices, and file records, the productive work process could not function. Materials have to be ordered and shipped, parts have to be replaced, costs of labor and materials have to be monitored and recorded, finished products have to be shipped, sales of finished goods recorded, and financial accounts have to be tracked, recorded, monitored, and analyzed. All of this work and all of the paperwork produced (today mostly by computers) must be prepared in a form that enables managers and administrators to make decisions regarding products to be manufactured, numbers of people to be employed, and markets to be found for sales of company products.

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