|THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE|
September 3, 1997
in this forum:
What role will orgnaized labor play in the new workplace? How has technology changed the way we work? What is driving the increase in contingent workers? How prevalent are the golden parachutes given to CEOs? How do we improve the workplace atmosphere? Why do service jobs still pay so little?
August 22, 1997:
The NewsHour reports on Teamsters' President Ron Carey's election troubles.
August 20, 1997:
Paul Solman explores the fallout from the UPS strike on labor/management relations.
February 20, 1997:
John Sweeney, the newly elected president of the AFL-CIO, discusses the state of the labor movement.
February 20, 1997
Paul Solman leads a discussion on whether an unfettered economy is best.
October 21, 1996
Paul Solman explores the bud vase economy and the wage gap.
September 2, 1996:
The Online NewsHour and the NewsHour's regular panel of historians explore the history of labor day in separate reports.
May 14, 1996
The NewsHour reports on the debate in the Senate over the Teamwork Act.
March 25, 1996
The NewsHour historians examine the history of economic insecurity and economist Harris Sussman on coping with the modern workplace.
A question from Carl Rissser of Bangor, ME:
How do you see technology, which has always altered the American workplace, changing the way we work? Will there be no more workplace as such?
Dr. Walter Licht responds:
Technology constantly changes how tasks are completed at work--there is nothing new in recent technological innovations at work. The question is whether relations at the workplace have changed, whether work has become more engaging and less alienating for most workers. Here, frankly, I am not sure much has changed. Will work disappear? I see no evidence of that. The number of people working outside of the home is growing and will continue to grow.
Edward Potter responds:
The most obvious impact of technology so far is the effect it is having on wage inequality. Economists generally agree that changes in technology are largely responsible for the increasing wage gap between employees with high skills and education, and those with low skills and education. Recent studies at the firm level suggest that even in production line jobs (for example, at the Honda auto plants in Tennessee), employers are seeking higher levels of mathematical, reading, and reasoning skills. This reinforces the importance of continuing education and skill-upgrading for existing workers, not just new labor force entrants.
A second hoped for effect, an increase in the rate of productivity growth, has yet to show up in official measures of productivity. But many analysts, including Federal Board Chairman Greenspan, believe that our official measures are probably flawed, and that increases in productivity are the only way to explain rising profit margins for companies during a period of rising real wages, but virtually no inflation. Productivity growth matters because in the long-run, real wages cannot rise faster than the rate of increase in productivity.
Information technology is certainly changing the meaning of "workplace" for some kinds of businesses. There are, for example, research, consulting and businesses services firms that exist only as "virtual organizations"--that is, only a small fraction of their employees ever report to a fixed worksite. Instead, employees who are scattered across the continent, even overseas, stay in touch electronically, through e-mail, bulletin boards, message centers, Web pages, etc. It seems likely that employment will grow in these kinds of firms, and that entrepreneurs will experiment with applications of growing technological capability in other sectors. But, we will still have a preponderance of traditional place-based jobs--in manufacturing, distribution, retail, and construction sectors.