The Nature of Occupational Employment Growth: 1983-93

Article excerpt

Employment growth between 1983 and 1993 was greater for occupations at the top and bottom of the earnings distribution than for those in the middle. This article presents additional data on occupational job openings resulting from the need to replace workers who permanently leave the labor force and the net movement of workers among occupations. The number of job openings for wage and salary workers resulting from both employment growth and replacement of workers leaving the labor force and changing occupations was greater in low-paying occupations(1).

These conclusions are derived from a recently-developed employment series based on industry-occupational employment matrices prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since the early 1980's.

Changes in the demand for goods and services and in how work is performed have raised many concerns about the nature of job growth. Increasing use of computer technology, restructuring of businesses, and a growing global economy are among the factors economists cite as contributing to changes in the employment structure of the U.S. economy since the early 1980's. However, measuring the impact of these factors on the industrial and occupational composition of employment and on the quality of jobs in terms of their educational requirements and earnings is difficult.

The need for data to analyze changes in the occupational structure of industries gave impetus to the development of the Occupational Employment Statistics survey in the early 1970's.(2) In developing the base year occupational employment for BLS projections, data on occupational staffing patterns of industries from the survey are applied to industry employment data derived from the Current Employment Statistics survey to develop estimates of occupational employment.(3) A time series of occupational employment by industry for the 1983--93 period was developed using those data.

This article discusses the nature of job growth over the 1983--93 period as measured by the time series. The discussion focuses on numerical change, rather than percent change. For example, subway and streetcar operators, which grew 189 percent, but increased in number by only 14,700, have less importance to the discussion than retail salespersons, which grew only 16 percent, but increased in number by nearly 500,000. In fact, the pattern of employment growth was influenced heavily by employment concentration and growth in relatively few (10) occupations that accounted for nearly 30 percent of total employment growth. (See table 1.)


To study the quality of job growth in terms of earnings, employment for detailed occupations in the industry-occupation matrix was matched with data on median earnings for comparable occupations in the Current Population Survey. The data were analyzed in earnings quartiles, which were developed by ranking occupations according to median earnings in 1993, and dividing them into four groups that each accounted for about 25 percent of employment in 1993. (The quartiles do not account for exactly 25 percent of employment because an occupation falling on the dividing line of the quartiles was not split between quartiles, but was included in the quartile in which most of its employment fell.)

Issues concerned with the quality of jobs such as job satisfaction, the availability of full-time jobs, and job tenure are not discussed, although they are important and cannot be ignored in broad views of the quality of jobs.(4)

Major employment trends

Employment of wage and salary workers increased 19.7 million over the 1983-93 period, from 92.6 million to 112.3 million. All major occupational groups experienced increases, with the largest numerical growth in service, professional, and administrative support occupations, including clerical. (See table 2.) From an industry viewpoint, 80 percent of the increase was in two industry divisions--services and retail trade--although they accounted for little more than half of total employment. …