IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Job Growth and the Quality of Jobs in the U.S. Economy

Listed author(s):

During the 1980's employment grew rapidly in the United States, prompting many analysts to label the U.S. economy the great American job machine. But while aggregate employment increased rapidly during the 1980's, many did not benefit from the expansion. Among less educated prime-age males, unemployment rates rose and labor force participation rates declined sharply. Moreover, although job growth was high, many argued that the quality of American jobs as measured by wages, benefits, and job security deteriorated. The decline of jobs in the high-paying manufacturing sector and the growth of jobs in the low-paying services sector, the growth in part-time and temporary employment, and the general decline in real wages among less-educated, less-skilled workers have been presented as evidence of an erosion in job quality. The issue of job growth and job quality in the American economy has sparked extensive debate among policymakers and academics over the last decade. The aim of this paper is to critically examine the evidence on job growth and on wages and other indicators of job quality in the U.S. economy during the 1980's and 1990's. To place the American experience in perspective, selected comparisons are made to the experiences in other industrialized countries. The paper is divided into three main sections. In section 1, I look at employment growth in the United States during the 1980's and 1990's. I examine whether and to what extent employment growth was greater in the United States than in other industrialized countries and whether strong employment growth in the United States signaled a healthy economy. I compare the employment performance of the U.S. economy during the 1980's with that in other industrialized countries, and study the factors underlying the cross-country differences in employment growth: differences in the growth of the working age population, differences in the growth in labor force participation, and differences in the growth in unemployment. I also examine differences in the employment experiences across groups of workers defined by gender, education, and age within the United States. In addition, the relation between employment growth, productivity growth, and growth in per capita GDP in the United States and other industrialized countries during the 1980's is explored. Finally, trends in employment growth in the United States during the 1990's are discussed. In sections 2 and 3 of the paper, I examine whether and in what sense there is any evidence that the quality of jobs in the United States has declined. The literature pertaining to trends in the quality of jobs in the U.S. economy falls into at least two main categories: (1) studies of the wage, benefits, and job security characteristics of new jobs created; and (2) studies of trends in real wages, benefits, and earnings inequality. The latter deals with trends in new as well as existing jobs. In section 2 of the paper, I review evidence from several studies on the wage distribution of occupations and industries in which new employment was created during the 1980's and 1990's. I also look at trends in the growth of involuntary part-time employment and temporary employment, which are characterized by low wages, few benefits, and little job security. In section 3 of the paper, I present evidence on trends in wages and benefits across groups of workers and the growth of wage inequality in the United States during the 1980's and 1990's. I review evidence concerning the causes of the decline in real wages among less-educated workers and the growth in wage inequality in the United States. I also review evidence from studies of trends in real wages and wage inequality in other industrialized countries and discuss why trends abroad typically have differed from those in the United States. In section 4, I summarize the evidence on job growth and the quality of jobs in the United States during the 1980's and 1990's and discuss the implications for U.S. policy.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: This material is copyrighted. Permission is required to reproduce any or all parts.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Paper provided by W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in its series Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles with number 95-39.

in new window

Date of creation: Aug 1995
Handle: RePEc:upj:weupjo:95-39
Note: A revised version of this paper appears in Labour, Special Issue, 1995, pp. S93-S124. Please cite the revised version.
Contact details of provider: Postal:
300 S. Westnedge Ave. Kalamazoo, MI 49007 USA

Phone: 1-269-343-5541
Fax: 1-269-343-7310
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Katharine G. Abraham, 1988. "Flexible Staffing Arrangements and Employers' Short-Term Adjustment Strategies," NBER Working Papers 2617, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alan B. Krueger, 1993. "How Computers Have Changed the Wage Structure: Evidence from Microdata, 1984–1989," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(1), pages 33-60.
  3. Katharine G. Abraham & Susan Houseman, 1995. "Earnings Inequality in Germany," NBER Chapters,in: Differences and Changes in Wage Structures, pages 371-404 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Freeman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1992. "On the Labor Market Effects of Immigration and Trade," NBER Chapters,in: Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 213-244 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jacob Mincer, 1989. "Human Capital Responses to Technological Change in the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 3207, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Paul Krugman & Robert Lawrence, 1993. "Trade, Jobs, and Wages," NBER Working Papers 4478, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. James Heckman, 1993. "Assessing Clinton's Program on Job Training, Workfare, and Education in the Workplace," NBER Working Papers 4428, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Howard J. Shatz, 1994. "Trade and Jobs in Manufacturing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(1), pages 1-84.
  9. Eli Berman & John Bound & Zvi Griliches, 1993. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U.S. Manufacturing Industries: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufacturing," NBER Working Papers 4255, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Chinhui Juhn, 1994. "Wage Inequality and Industrial Change: Evidence from Five Decades," NBER Working Papers 4684, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Stephen Nickell & D Nicolitsas, 1994. "Wages," CEP Discussion Papers dp0219, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  12. Rebecca M. Blank & David Card, 1993. "Poverty, Income Distribution, and Growth: Are They Still Connected," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 24(2), pages 285-340.
  13. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-1381, September.
  14. McKinley L. Blackburn & David E. Bloom & Richard B. Freeman, 1989. "The Declining Economic Position of Less-Skilled American Males," NBER Working Papers 3186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Bartel, Ann P & Lichtenberg, Frank R, 1987. "The Comparative Advantage of Educated Workers in Implementing New Technology," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(1), pages 1-11, February.
  16. Katz, Lawrence F. & Revenga, Ana L., 1989. "Changes in the structure of wages: The United States vs Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 522-553, December.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:upj:weupjo:95-39. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.