March, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 3
Labor month in review
Fewer mass layoffs
Few work stoppages
The March Review
Projects that integrate information across survey lines are all too rare. Thus, we are glad to lead with the analysis by Diane F. Herz, Joseph R. Meisenheimer II, and Harriet G. Weinstein of heath care and retirement benefits data from the Current Population and Employee Benefits Surveys. The article, in addition to delivering information on the incidence and characteristics of two important classes of benefits, also helps readers understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of household and establishment surveys.
Randy E. Ilg and Steven E. Haugen examine trends in employment and real earnings, both overall and in high-, medium-, and low-earnings occupational categories. They find that a modest increase in real median earnings in the 1990s was concentrated in time in the final 2 years and most evident in the low-earnings group. The high-earnings group, while it grew substantially over the decade, had only a slight increase in its earnings median. The middle category saw very little change in employment or earnings.
William C. Goodman reports on broad developments in the air transportation industry. His analysis points to an industry in which, over the long haul, prices have declined, productivity has increased, and output and employment have increased substantially.
Mark S. Handcock, Martina Morris, and Annette Bernhardt return us to working across surveys. In this case, the article works with trends in earnings inequality as measured by different household surveys. Researchers have found apparent discrepancies between a rising trend in earnings variance—a measure of increasing earnings inequality—in the Current Population Survey and a falling trend in the variance of earnings in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. The authors find that restricting the sample to full-time, full-year workers eliminates much of the discrepancy.
Fewer mass layoffs
There were 14,909 layoff events in 1999, involving a total of 1,572,399 initial claims for unemployment insurance in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. After increasing in 1997 and 1998, the number of layoffs and initial claimants returned to around 1997 levels.
Manufacturing accounted for 33 percent of all mass layoff events in 1999 and 40 percent of initial claims filed. Initial claims filings were most numerous in transportation equipment (98,746) and industrial machinery and equipment (87,363).
The number of initial claims due to mass layoffs continued to be higher in the West (576,654) than in any other region. Layoffs in business services, agricultural services, and motion pictures accounted for 41 percent of the claims in the West. The fewest mass-layoff initial claims continued to be reported in the Northeast region (207,057). For more information, see "Mass Layoffs in December 1999" (USDL 00-49).
Few work stoppages
Seventeen major work stoppages began in 1999, the lowest number in the 53-year history of the series. Of the 17 major work stoppages beginning in 1999, 12 were in the private sector; the remainder occurred in State and local government, all in educational services. In the private sector, seven stoppages occurred in goods-producing industries, and five occurred in service-producing industries.
In all, only 73,000 workers were involved in these work stoppages. This was the lowest level in the 53-year-old series and the first time the level was below 100,000. In comparison, in 1998, major work stoppages idled 387,000 workers. This series peaked in 1952, when 2,746,000 workers were involved in stoppages. Additional information is available in "Major Work Stoppages, 1999" (USDL 00-51).
Productivity increased 2.9 percent in the nonfarm business sector during 1999, about the same as the 2.8 percent rise in 1998. Output in nonfarm businesses rose 4.7 percent, and hours of all persons increased 1.7 percent. Unit labor costs in the sector grew 1.8 percent in 1999, somewhat less than their 2.4-percent increase in 1998. This reflected, in part, an hourly compensation rise of 4.8 percent in 1999, compared with a 5.2-percent increase in 1998. For more information, see "Productivity and Costs" (USDL 00-64).
Annual average unemployment rates decreased in 35 States and the District of Columbia in 1999. Unemployment declined in all four broad regions—Northeast, Midwest, South, and West—and eight of their nine component divisions.
Among the States, Maryland and Oklahoma posted the largest rate declines in 1999 (–1.1 points each), followed by Arkansas (–1.0 point). Four other States recorded decreases of more than three-quarters of a percentage point. (The District of Columbia’s rate dropped by 2.5 percentage points.)
Among the Nation’s nine geographic divisions, the Pacific division, along with the West South Central division, recorded the largest rate decrease from 1998 (–0.5 percentage point each). The drop in the Pacific division’s rate was largely due to improvements in the California labor market.
The West region recorded the largest decline over the year, down 0.5 percentage point, followed by the Northeast and South, down 0.3 point each. Unemployment in the Midwest region edged down 0.1 point. Additional information is available in "Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment: January 2000" (USDL 00-71).
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