America's Future Work Force: A Health and Education Policy Issues Handbook

By Carl W. Stenberg; William G. Colman | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The U.S. Labor Force: Present and Projected Economic, Social, and Fiscal Contexts
Beginning in the 1970s and accelerating thereafter, basic changes in the U. S. economy were occurring, causing widespread dislocations and growing public uncertainty and unease. In the early stages, these concerns focused upon industrial competitiveness in a globalizing economy, shifts within and among the agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors, and, relative to competition from abroad, declines in productivity and product quality. By the mid-1980s and subsequently, concerns shifted to changes in labor force composition and higher skill requirements, inadequate education and training of future workers, and growing strains in the nation's social fabric.The latter included weakening family structures, increased drug addiction, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) infection, coupled with impaired access by lower-income persons and families to adequate health care. Also, violent crime and incarceration rates were increasing alarmingly. These health, crime, and other social problems were having a devastating impact upon school attendance and achievement in many districts, especially in large central cities, resulting in a severe hemorrhaging in the number and quality of potential future labor force participants.By the early 1990s a consensus was beginning to form across a broad spectrum of public opinion and from leaders in both private and public sectors as to the nature, severity, and scope of these interdependent economic and social phenomena.
From the national government, former labor secretary Elizabeth Dole: "At a time when the United States faces the stiffest international competition in our history, the basic skills of our work force are eroding at an alarming pace. . . . Many of our workers are unready -- unready for the new jobs, unready for the new realities." 1
From the Committee for Economic Development (CED): "These trends, if left unat-

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