America's Work Force Changing Radically

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When Labor Day arrives Monday, it will be celebrated by a work force that has changed radically since the same holiday in 2008.

Over the past year, the labor market has suffered its most wrenching changes in a generation, shedding millions of jobs and changing the profile of the more than 131 million people who head to work every day.

American workers are older than they used to be, working fewer hours at cash-strapped companies and less likely to be unionized.

Older Americans will make up virtually all of the growth in the U.S. work force in the coming years as a nearly unprecedented number hold onto jobs and younger people decide to stay in school.

The study by the Pew Research Center, an independent research group, highlights a rapidly graying labor market due to longer life spans, an aging baby boomer population and a souring economy that has made it harder to retire.

Read the full Pew study here.

Pew's survey and analysis of government data, being released Thursday, found the share of Americans ages 55 and older who have or were seeking a job rose to 40 percent this year, the highest level since 1961. In contrast, people 16 to 24 who were active in the labor market decreased to 57 percent, down from 66 percent in 2000.

Asked to identify why they're working, 54 percent of older workers responded that it was mostly because they wanted to, citing a desire while they were still feeling healthy to be productive, interact with other people or to ``give myself something to do.'' A sizable number of them - nearly 4 in 10 - also acknowledged staying put at work partly because of the recession.

Far more American workers are now out looking for a job, and spending longer periods of time on the job hunt.

The rapid change has come on top of longer-term transformations. In 1959, nearly 30 percent of all non-farm workers had manufacturing jobs - by last month, that had fallen to 9 percent. Eighty years ago, about 20 percent of Americans worked on farms. Now it's less than 2 percent.

As Americans left behind farms and factories, they donned the service-sector attire of aprons, neckties and telephone headsets, with about 36 percent of the work force now employed in the service sector.

While changes have been obvious, it's less clear what will be around the corner for U.S. workers. Analysts expect a long period of joblessness to continue, with the unemployment rate not returning to pre-recession levels until 2013 or later.

The big question is what kind of jobs will appear to replace those lost forever in the hard-hit financial services and construction sectors.

Here's a look at the changing U.S. labor force, by the numbers.


• 4 percent: The total decline over the last year in the U.S. nonfarm payroll, which stands at 131.5 million people.

• 9.4 percent: The current unemployment rate, up from 4.7 percent when the recession began.

• 33.1 hours: The length of the average workweek as employers cut hours, near a the lowest level in records dating to 1964.

• 6.7 million: The number of jobs lost since the recession started in December 2007.


• 2.8 percent: The share of people who are at work by 5 a.m.

• 7.6 hours: The length of the average workday.

• 20 percent: Share of employees who do all or some of their work at home.

• 48.6 minutes: The average daily travel time for commuters and traveling workers.

• 76 percent: Percentage of workers who drive alone to work.


• 18 percent: The total decline over the last year in construction jobs, which fell to 6.1 million.

• 4.67 percent: Share of the U.S. labor market held by construction workers last year, down from 5.4 percent as the housing bust intensified last summer.

• 7.7 million: Number of workers with more than one job, about 5 percent of the work force.

• 6 percent: Decline in the number of workers in the financial sector over the last year, with 7.7 million remaining as of July.

• 587,000: Number of registered nursing positions expected to be created between 2006 and 2016.


• 40 percent: The share of workers over age 55 who have a job or are seeking a job, the highest level since it was 40.8 percent in 1961, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

• 57 percent: The share of workers between age 16 and 24 who are in the labor market, down from 66 percent in 2000. Many are waiting out the downturn by going to school.

• 16 million: The number of wage and salaried workers who are unionized, down from 16.3 million in 2000.


• 4.28 percent: Percentage of work force in management jobs.

• 0.19 percent: Percentage of workers who are chief executives.

• $136,890: Mean annual wage of chief executives.

• $52,290: Mean annual wage of elementary school teachers.

• $72,870: Mean annual wage of industrial engineers.

• $102,390: Mean annual wage of dentists.

• $46,920: Mean annual wage of all occupations.