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

The State of Industry Growth in America

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There is little doubt, as the numbers in GE's Working in America data visualization suggest, that the nature of labor force participation and the structure of our labor force have changed significantly during the Great Recession. But, the data also tell us that industry-specific shifts, to be expected in a dynamic economy, have been underway for a long time.

In fact, it is important to realize the understated truth that the American labor force has been shifting in its composition and nature since the beginning of the republic. In 1860, for instance, only a fraction of the population even knew what railroads were, and within two decades, railroad companies were the largest corporate employers ever known to mankind. Of course, this reflected the forerunning of the labor force change that occurred in capital markets. The rush to get money into these companies was the story of the 1880s and it continued for several decades.  

But beneath this story, one of thousands in which a new industry emerged and began to reshape our nation's labor market, is the component that is missing in today's economic scene. The U.S. has seldom had such a prolonged period of slow growth. While we are not continuing in a recessionary mode, recent estimates have been revised to indicate that the U.S. will grow at less than two percent this year. This is in many ways "non-American," as our country's distinct story has been one of growth.  

The data in the Working in America data visualization  suggests that this dynamism is becoming less a fixture of our economic firmament. A very weak labor market exists because we are not seeing much growth. As Bob Litan and I suggest in our forthcoming book Better Capitalism (Yale, 2012), no concern about sluggish upward mobility or negative shifts in income distribution can be remedied without growth. We may be gradually shifting our expectations of growth and beginning to sink into a stratified labor market where people don't aspire to upward mobility.

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

Carl J. Schramm - Carl J. Schramm is University Professor at Syracuse University. For ten years he was president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He is co-author with Robert E. Litan of Better Capitalism: Renewing the Entrepreneurial Strength of the American Economy (September 2012, Yale University Press).

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