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Profile of the American Worker: A Work in Progress

Changing demographics, services economy highlight our labor force


The funny thing about numbers: Sometimes they show you exactly what you can see with your own eyes.

A look at figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the American work force is made of vast and diverse peoples — just like America itself. Of course, while it’s difficult to paint a perfectly representative picture with stats, you still can get a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at.

Here are three charts breaking down the American work force by gender, race/ethnicity and occupation:

First off, looking at the distribution of men and women in the workplace finds what I suspect most assume: that men outnumber women. The 53% to 47% actually is an increase of 1% for men and a decrease of 1% for women against 2010 figures, though, which is a bit surprising considering the gains women have been making in the work force over the past decade. It will be interesting to see if next year’s figures continue this particular trend.

Answering the question of who is in the labor force as more broadly defined by race and ethnicity comes next:

Race and ethnicity play a big role in the work force profile, as the continuing influx of Latino and Hispanic workers put the demographic into second place in overall employment. The growth in the Latino and Hispanic population in the work force is a bit confusing to parse, however, as most population/labor surveys allow for the category to classify them as any race, which can result in a “double counting” of the totals.

Still, whites remain the predominant employee by a wide margin, although their employment growth rate is slowing against all other demographic groups. Once again, this is a trend worth watching in the future.

So what do all these people in the labor force actually do? Glad you asked:

As evidenced by the occupation graphic, we are now very clearly a professional and services sector economy. Nearly 80% of the American work force is housed in either sales, management or professional occupations as we continue to lead the world in technology and manufacturing.

Of course, those goods and services have to move, and someone has to track those movements, but it’s possible that in the age of outsourcing and even greater technological advances, like robotics, even those positions might become reduced or even obsolete over time.

So it is clear that the profile of the American Worker is a work in progress, and subject to continued changes over time.

Indeed, an interesting 2009 report on U.S. Workforce Trends published by the Partnership for Public Service using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a road map for what the American Worker might look like in 2016:

  • In the 10-year period between 2006 to 2016, the work force will increase by 8.5% (12.8 million workers), compared to a 13.1% increase during 1996-2006 when the labor force grew by 17.5 million.
  • The percentage of older workers (age 55 or over) will increase significantly (from 16.8% to 22.7%), while those age 25 to 54 will decline (68.4% to 64.6%), as will those age 16 to 24 (14.8% to 12.7%).
  • Hispanics will continue to constitute an increasing proportion of the work force, growing to 16.4%. Asians and African-Americans also will increase their percentages, though less dramatically as a percentage of the total.

Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at

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