Brightening horizon for jobs

News reports on the high rate of joblessness brought on by the current recession and the employment outlook for the years ahead may leave some Americans confused. For instance, one day last week The Wall Street Journal published the headline, "Joblessness to Fall in Decade As Fewer Enter Labor Force." The very next day a front page headline in the same publication cautioned, "Joblessness May Soar Because of the Changes in Economy Since 1975."

Examined closely, the reports are not as contradictory as they seem to the layman. But they do point up the importance of keeping all th epolitical hand-writing over the current upswing in joblessness in proper perspective. The long-term projections are not all that bad, even though in the short run the unemployment outlook is cause for concern. In June, the US joblessness rate was 7.7 percent, and most economists expect the rate to reach 9 percent by this fall. Since earh percentage point represents about 1 millionpeople in search of work, the problem is serious and should not be minimized.

Moreover, some economists predict that unemployment levels during the current recession will remain high unusually long and recede very slowly because more American businesses, in a reverse of the decades-old trend of replacing men with machines, have been substituting labor for capital. Since more firms are using relatively more labor now to produce the same amount of goods, these analysts say, production cutbacks in this recession will cost mroe jobs than they did in previous economic downturns.

However, the long-term forecasts of government labor experts are that the integration of 1950s "baby boom" generation into the work force will lead to an overall reduction in the high US unemployment rate of the past decade. By 1985, the millions who comorise the "baby boom" generation will have been absorbed into the labor force, which means that fewer new people will be seeking to enter the job market.

Recent warnings that more women will be seeking jobs in years to come must also be tempered with the recognition that, despite new laws prohibiting mandatory retirement, the trend toward early retirement is continuing and is expected to last through the 1980s at least. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that even among men in the 55-to-64 age category, the proportion working has dropped from 90 percent in 1947 to 73 percent.

Even in the short run, it should be remembered, Americans are better prepared to cope with joblessness today than they were in past recessions. A number of relatively new federal and state work-sharing, training, and job-creating programs serve to cushion the impact of unemployment on society, although greater efforts are still needed to lower the high joblessness rate among urban minorities, black youth in particular.

What all this means is that beyond the immediate recessionary problem the long-range unemployment picture may not be all that gloomy. And that's something politicians and nonpoliticians alike should keep in mind.

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