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Other trends among the work force cloud the statistics. More women and teenagers now seek jobs than ever before, pushing up the number of people in the labor marketand thus the number of unemployed. In 1955, for example, women accounted for 30.2% and teen-agers 6.6% of a labor force that totaled 68 million. In 1980 the comparable figures were 42% and 9% in a labor force that was 57% larger. Both women and teen-agers also change jobs more often than adult men, and this tends to raise unemployment rates. Some experts contend that these tendencies may have inflated the rate by as much as 2.5% over the past two decades.
On the other hand, critics argue that the Labor Department survey, which is conducted monthly among 60,000 households, underestimates the jobless because "discouraged workers" are not included in the figures. Had they been counted in December, for example, the unemployment rate would have reached 9.9%. It is also argued that part-time workers seeking full-time employment should be somehow included in the unemployment figures. If half of the part-time workers were included in the December figures, the rate would have been 11.5%.
The unemployment rate is devastating in two industries, automobiles and construction, that have been wounded by high interest rates. In December, 18.1% of construction workers were unemployed, and joblessness among autoworkers was 21.7 %. That is a drop from 28.6% in May 1980, but auto industry figures are misleading. Many unemployed car workers have given up hope of returning to the assembly line and have sought different careers entirely. The downturn keeps spreading to industries that supply materials to automakers and house builders and is rippling through nearly all manufacturing firms. In past recessions, Government employment rolls tended to rise, but the Administration's efforts to reduce Government spending have stopped that trend. During the past year, 269,000 state and federal employees have lost their jobs.
One notable exception to the distress is in the so-called service-producing sector, which includes transportation, real estate and health care. The service fields employ 66 million peoplethree times as many as manufacturing firmsand have added 737,000 jobs over the past year. But even this market is softening: the rate of increase in these jobs last year (1%) was down from 1980's increase (2%).
The unemployment lines snake haphazardly across the country, with the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and parts of the South suffering the highest rates of joblessness. Michigan, with its crippled auto industry, is at the top of the charts at 14.4%, with 627,000 unemployed. Oklahoma boasts the enviable rate of 3.9%, thanks to its thriving oil industry. A survey of the national unemployment scene: