How We Live: An Economic Perspective on Americans from Birth to Death
Ending Unemployment: Alternatives for Public Policy
Money Income of Households, Families, and Persons in the United States: 1981 137 (March 1983)
Employment and Earnings (January 1983)
Not so many years ago, “full employment” was regarded as a realistic goal. If certain policies were pursued, all who so desired could have steady work at decent pay. Needless to say, there were disagreements on how to achieve that aim. Conservatives asked that the economy be freed to flourish on its own; given such a climate, private businesses and investors would create sufficient jobs. Liberals and those further to the left were less sanguine on this score. They believed that the government must intervene in the economy: not merely when times were bad, but to plan for full employment as a goal for the future.
The talk we hear today has a less assured ring. We hope to put some people back to work; but no one has clear ideas about what jobs, or how many, can be created for them. Indeed, there is a widespread suspicion that our economy will not expand much beyond its present bounds, and that the parts that will grow will be the ones that depend more on high technology than on labor. If this apprehension is correct, a high level of unemployment may be with us for the rest of this century. One result will be keener competition for such jobs as exist. Who gets them will be a central issue, raising questions of equity and need.
Two recent books consider what might be called the distribution of employment. Victor R. Fuchs, an economist at Stanford University, describes his How We Live as “an economic perspective on Americans from birth to death,” relying largely on statistical studies from governmental sources. He is especially interested in the entry of women into the labor force and their experience there. Melvin R. Levin’s Ending Unemployment is chiefly concerned with the “marginal” men and women who have never gained a foothold in the labor market. However he concludes that they and laid-off workers will have more and more in common if we cannot bring about an industrial revival. Hence his proposal for a permanent program of public works, to include workers of varying experience and skills.
Before turning to these books, however, we might well review the basic facts of employment and its lack. Our most comprehensive source is an annual study issued by the Census Bureau, entitled Money Income of Households, Families, and Persons in the United States. Its most recent edition, released in March of this year, tells us which Americans were employed, how much work they did, and what their earnings were in 1981. While it is true that unemployment averaged 7.5 percent in 1981, as against 10.1 percent for April of 1983, the distributions of earnings and employment are substantially the same. The Census findings come from a survey of 60,000 households, whose members were asked to specify the sources of their income, which the bureau then adjusted to accord with data from other agencies. This sampling is the most reliable we have; in fact it is the same one on…
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