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Moreover, the fastest areas of manufacturing growth will be high-tech fields such as semiconductors and computers, while old industries will continue to suffer. A committee of academics, Congressmen, labor leaders and business executives, chaired by Senator William Roth of Delaware and Congressman Don Bonker of Washington, will soon issue a report concluding that by the 1990s, employment in such smokestack industries as steel and autos will shrink from the present 20% of the labor force to perhaps 8%.
But can the U.S. allow its basic industries to atrophy and still remain a major industrial and military power? McDonald's now employs more workers than U.S. Steel. Can such trends continue? Business leaders in the older sectors of the economy insist that they cannot. Says John Nevin, chairman of Firestone Tire & Rubber: "It's utter nonsense that we are going to become a high-tech and a service economy. The high-tech companies have more manufacturing offshore than here. The idea that we can have an economy by selling hamburgers to each other is absurd."
Of course, no one claims that all production in basic industries will wither away. Says Harvard's Robert B. Reich, author of The Next American Frontier: "The choice is not between a smokestack America, on the one hand, and high technology, on the other. That is a false choice." The real challenge confronting the U.S., he says, is how to use high technology in smokestack industries.
Those most directly affected by this economic transformation are the displaced blue-collar workers. They will be hard-pressed to find jobs that even remotely resemble the $25,000-a-year slots in which they manned assembly lines and blast furnaces. The Department of Labor projects that the largest numbers of job openings will be in such low-paying categories as secretaries, nurses' aides, janitors, sales clerks and cashiers (see table). Although the total numbers are not as large, the fastest percentage growth will come in highly technical professions like computer programming and software writing. Those are not skills that a 45-year-old steel-worker can pick up easily.
Women may have comparatively less trouble than men in finding jobs in the New Economy because they have traditionally specialized in such service fields as nursing and secretarial work. The unemployment rate among adult women is now 8.4%, in contrast with 9.8% for adult men. Since service jobs tend to be low paying, however, women earn only 65% of what men do. In the technical professions that look most lucrative for the future, women have lagged badly but are starting to catch up. Women earn about 23% of the master's degrees granted in computer science, up from 15% in 1975.
Perhaps the biggest concern among business executives, educators and government officials as they view the transformation of the U.S. economy is that too many young men and women are not being well prepared for the jobs of the 1990s. In a report last month, the National