Misconceptions about the Future U.S. Work Force: Implications for Strategic Planning

By Barnum, Phyllis | Human Resource Planning, September 1991 | Go to article overview

Misconceptions about the Future U.S. Work Force: Implications for Strategic Planning


Barnum, Phyllis, Human Resource Planning


Executive Summary

A great amount of misleading information has been published that projects radical changes in the demographic characteristics of the American labor force. In reality, important aspects of work force demographics are forecast to change gradually during the period from 1988-2000-a continuation in the same direction begun before the late 1970s. The already substantial proporations of women and minorities in the work force will increase only slightly, despite the fact that more of the entrants will be women and minorities than will be white men. Furthermore, the percentage increase of women and members of minority groups is forecast to slow during this period. Growth of the total labor force is predicted to decrease. In certain industries, there will be a mistmatch in the supply of and the demand for workers. Recommendations for strategic human resources planning are made.

Pronoucements of dramatic shifts in the demography of the U.S. work force have appeared in major business publications and in human resource (HR) journals. After reading these sources, one might be surprised to learn that important characteristics of the composition of the U.S. labor force in the year 2000 are projected to be not very different from what they are today (U.S. Department of Labor, 1989 and 1990). The following quotations are typical of those found in many publications:

1. The U.S. is about to undergo the most

wrenching shifts in the composition and

quality of its work force in more than a

half-century. . . . The work force grew by

3 million workers a year during the 1970s,

but will swell by only 1.6 million new

workers a year in the coming decade.

(Castro, 1990)

2. Demographic information indicates that the

U.S. population will have a radically different

profile by the end of the 1990s: one

of three Americans will be nonwhile; 85%

of new entrants into the workforce will be

members of minority groups, women, or

immigrants and more than one-third of

Americans will be age 65 years or older.

(Wagel, 1990)

3. . . . the influential Workforce 2000 report

issued in 1987 by Hudson and the

U.S. Department of Labor. That report

drew much attention for its projection of

radical demographic change. It predicted,

among other things, that white males would

constitute only 15% of net additions to the

workforce by the year 2000, down sharply

from 45% in 1985. (Fuchsberg, 1990)

4. Significant demographic shifts in the United

States will have a profound impact on human

resources management (HRM) in the

1990s. . . . Since new demographics will

require bold new HR initiatives, HR managers

must become aware of the coming

changes. . . . One of the most striking

changes in the labor force during the 1990s

will be the increase in the number of

women will constitute 65% of all labor force

entrants and 47% of all U.S. workers - up

from 20% in 1989. (Mandell, 199) (More accurate figures for these quotations are given in the Explanatory Endnotes at the end of this article).

In contrast with what is predicted by these publications, the composition of the total labor force is forecast not to change drastically, even though entrants into the work force will consist to a greater extent of women, and of African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics of both sexes than of white males. Moreover, the percentage increases for these groups are expected to slow in the period from 1988-2000, compared with the period from 1976-1988 (U.S. Department of Labor, 1990).

Many publications, therefore, have given a misleading picture of the nature of the trends. …

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