WASHINGTON — THE United States economy is growing and American employees have become more productive, but the wage gap between workers with an education and skills and those without is widening, according to US Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
At a Monitor breakfast yesterday, Mr. Reich painted a broad picture of the challenges confronting the US labor force. Most troubling, he says, is the ``two-tiered job structure depending on education and skills.'' The fact that ``more and more families are not only two-wage earners but [working three shifts] between the two of them'' is evidence of the hardship on the American working class, he says.
Data from 1993 and preliminary projections for the first six months of this year show the majority of the net, new 3.8 million jobs created over the past 17 months ``are managerial, professional, and technical jobs paying higher than normal,'' Reich says. ``But the majority of jobs out there for people with less than a college education are paying less and less.''
Underemployment is still a problem. Roughly 5 million Americans who would rather work full time are only working part time, and temporary workers account for 13 percent of the new jobs being created. In recent months, large US corporations have been adding to their payrolls instead of just increasing overtime for existing workers, Reich says. He cautions against analyzing this development as a long-term trend, however. Instead, he characterizes it as nothing much more than a ``bump.''
Small and medium-sized companies are still the biggest job generators, Reich says, but they also cause the biggest job losses - a phenomenon widely called ``churning of the work force.''
``Job security is a thing of the past,'' Reich says. There used to be a time when a high school graduate could easily find work in a factory, where it was likely he would have a job for life if the company remained financially sound. Today, Reich says, ``the last bastion of job security is tenured professors - people who talk most about the economy.''
* On President Clinton's proposed health-care reform: Mandates that require employers to extend benefits to their employees ``will have a negligible effect on employment,'' Reich says. If anything, the secretary asserts, ``the positive employment effects are understated'' because companies that are now swamped by high health-care outlays - the costs are rising three time faster than inflation, he says - will get a break once the reforms push prices down and ease the burden.
* On Mr. Clinton's unsuccessful push for the striker replacement bill: ``We inherited this battleground,'' Reich says, referring to President Reagan's controversial battle with the air-traffic controllers that ``made it legitimate for employers to threaten workers'' and created ``a great deal of distrust and antipathy'' between employers and employees.
While organized labor is reportedly dismayed by the administration's failure to champion legislation for workers' rights, Reich maintains that ``Clinton spent a lot of time on worker replacement - there was a full-court press'' in an ``incredibly divisive and bitter struggle.'' The powerful US business community was on the other side and won.
American employees are fearful about their future job prospects. They worry about the lack of commitment from management and complain that they get no warnings that their jobs are being terminated, Reich says. ``I hear over and over again the same concerns from American workers,'' he adds.