The “Big Shift” in Composition
Over the past two decades, the nature of hourly work in the United States has changed dramatically. In 1980, blue-collar sectors supplied a massive share of America’s hourly jobs. That year, the manufacturing and construction fields alone contained more than one-third of all U.S. hourly workers. By 2015, that share had dropped to less than one-fifth.1 Decades of technological advancement within these sectors has manifested from a rampant growth in productivity. Today’s blue-collar firms can achieve the same—if not greater—output with ever-fewer workers.2
“Even though there has been a growth in productivity, construction jobs, for example, are in a serious shortage. A high demand seems to contradict that but, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of BLS and Labor Department Data, construction. Has posted job gains of 22% since 1990—well below the U.S. average of 30%.3 Since the Great Recession, the story has been even worse. Construction has lost 16.2% of its jobs since 2006.4 The plunge in manufacturing employment, meanwhile, long predates the recession: The industry has lost 30% of its jobs since 1990, the largest drop off of any sector.5
Which fields have picked up the employment slack? While blue-collar industries have been sputtering, so-called “pink-collar” industries have been soaring. Pink-collar service professions rank among the fastest-growing fields in the entire workforce. Since 1990: Employment in educational services has shot up 105% during that period, while employment in health care and social assistance has jumped up 99%.6
In particular, health care employment has been booming recently. According to the latest BLS jobs report, four out of every ten jobs that the U.S. economy added in December 2016 were in the health care and social assistance field.7 On the year, this field accounted for one-quarter of all jobs added.8 And the BLS expects this boom to keep rolling through the next decade. In December 2015, the BLS projected that by 2024, health care and social assistance will be the largest employing sector in the United States, featuring the country’s top two fastest-growing professions.9
So yes, the number of employment options for pink-collar and blue-collar workers are undoubtedly headed in opposite directions. Despite this divergence, managers in the manufacturing, construction, and health care fields share one thing in common: they face demographic and generational headwinds that jeopardize the future growth of their businesses.
Next Part in the Series: Blue-Collar Headwinds: A Graying Workforce
- Occupation and industry, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#occind.
- Justin Fox, “Manufacturing’s Productivity Myth,” Bloomberg Business (October 26, 2016).
- The State of American Jobs (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2016).
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