Content provided by GE
Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives
 
Content provided by GE
Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives

In the Age of Big Data, the American Information Sector Stays Small

ge_big_data_615x350.jpg

As the Working in America data visualization illustrates, just 1.7 percent of American workers have jobs in the Information sector, making them almost as rare as farmers. But if the United States is now truly an information- and knowledge-based economy, how can information jobs comprise such a small percentage of the workforce?

Three reasons account for this apparent disconnect: 
  1. Many "information jobs" are accounted for under different NAICS (North American Industry Classification) codes. 
  2. Tens of thousands of information-based jobs, such as those in information technology (IT), are embedded in traditional industries. 
  3. Information technologies produce economies of scale that require fewer workers.
First, industry sector NAICS 51 "Information" includes only jobs in sectors such as broadcasting, journalism, motion pictures, or data processing. Millions of information-oriented jobs in sectors such as consulting, think tanks, or educational services are accounted for under different NAICS categories. In fact, Professional and Business Services, which includes jobs such as attorneys or computer systems designers, is a different NAICS category altogether, even though such jobs are almost entirely information-based.

Second, many of the new IT-enabled information-based jobs created in the economy over the past three decades--for example, Web designers or data analysts--are embedded within traditional industries like manufacturing, airlines, or finance. Because of this, the statistics don't fully reflect IT's role as a jobs driver, as from 2001 to 2011, 742,000 new IT jobs were created, an increase of 29.1 percent. In fact, IT employment grew more than 125 times faster than employment as a whole, which grew by only 0.2 percent. 

Finally, IT-enabled information jobs deliver tremendous scale, leverage, and productivity gains. We wouldn't want 100,000s of people manually and inefficiently looking up search terms on the Internet or connecting people with their friends. That's why Google and Facebook need only relatively small staffs to produce enormous value for society.

In other words, we shouldn't judge the impact of the information sector on the number of jobs in the specific information sector as its impact on the employment landscape touches many other traditional industries. 

To learn more about who's been working in America since 1960, explore the above Working in America data visualization »

Robert D. Atkinson - Robert D. Atkinson is founder and president, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Washington, DC. He frequently advises state, national, and international policy makers and was appointed by the Obama Administration to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board. He is co-author with Stephen J. Ezell of Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (September 2012, Yale University Press).

We Need to Change How We Look at Health and Education

We Need to Change How We Look at Health and Education

The Education and Health Services sector continues to add jobs at a pace too quick for our country to handle.

How About We Innovate Our Thinking About Innovation?

How About We Innovate Our Thinking About Innovation?

The responsibility for innovation has slowly transferred from industrial laboratories to university classrooms and start-ups.