The happenings "inside" the Wisconsin State Treasury and across the street at the State Capitol

The Economy & You #39: Who’s Been Working?


I recently came across a very interesting visual blog from General Electric (GE) that provides a visual representation of who has been working in the U.S. over the last 50 years. Users are able to visually track how many people have been working by age, gender, or business sector from 1960 to 2011.

I spent most of my time examining the labor trends by business sector.  GE identified 12 business sectors and tracked their rise and decliner over 50 years. I found some interesting things.  In 1960, manufacturing employed more people than any other sector with 15.4 million people employed out of a workforce of 72.6 million. Manufacturing represented approximately 21% of the workforce.  In 1979, it reached its highest level of employment. In 1982, manufacturing dropped to the 2nd largest employment sector.  In 1990 it dropped to third. In 2001, it dropped to fourth. In 2002, it dropped to 5th, and in 2008, manufacturing was the 6th largest employment sector. In 2001, manufacturing employed 11.7 million people or 7.5% out of a workforce of 156.76 million.  The decline of the manufacturing sector is not breaking news. Still, I found another business sector whose decline concerned me.

In 1960, there were 9.1 million people who were self-employed which represented 13% of the workforce.  Over the course of 50 years, the number of self-employed persons increased by only 300,000.  9.4 million people identified themselves as self-employed which comprised only 6% of the workforce. In 1960, the 3rd largest

Please note that self-employed do not include those in the farming/agricultural sector. They also experienced a decline from 5.5 million people employed (or 7.5% of the workforce) to 2.3 million (1.4% of workforce). Farming went from the 5th largest employment sector in 1960 to last in 1999.

This indicates to me that our nation, as a percentage of workforce, has fewer people building things and fewer becoming entrepreneurs.  I believe this is a trend that needs to be addressed as a state and as a nation. 

Another concern I had was if manufacturing, self-employment, and farming has declined what sectors have increased? To no surprise the services sector has seen a significant rise in employment, both in numbers and as a percentage of workforce. Professional and business services now employ 17.3 million people or 11% of the workforce. This compares to 3.7 million employed in 1960 or 5.1% of the workforce. The leisure and hospitality sector grew from 4.8% in 1960 to 8.5% in 2011. The largest increase was found in education and health services which grew from 2.9 million people employed in 1960 (or 4% of the workforce) to 19.9 million people in 2011 (or 13% of the labor force).  This sector is now the third largest employer of people in the U.S., up from ninth in 1960.

The American economy continues to experience uncertainty as the global economy becomes more and more intertwined. We as political leaders must find ways to encourage continued growth in those sectors that not only provide a family supporting income, but that will also sustain our nation’s economy in the long-term.

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