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Creighton Economist Reflects on the State of Labor in the U.S.

Labor DayIt’s not the best of times but neither is it the worst of times for the U.S. workforce.

When Americans celebrate the 125th Labor Day on Sept. 2, they will survey an economy that is stronger than it has been, though not as strong as it might be; an economy that is beginning to wheeze 10 years after stepping from the Great Recession onto the treadmill of expansion; in which workers skilled in the trades are experiencing faster wage growth than their white-collar counterparts; and in which low-wage nations continue to draw manufacturing jobs away from the United States.

These conclusions are drawn by Ernie Goss, PhD, professor of economics and finance at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business and holder of the Jack MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics.

Overall, “it’s a good time,” Goss said late last month, as he took a few minutes to reflect on the state of labor.

“The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, especially for those who have skills and education consistent with what the market demands. The unemployment rate has come down most dramatically for minorities and Hispanics and others, though less dramatically for higher-wage people and whites.”

Two phenomena noted by economy watchers is the employment resilience of the baby-boom generation (born 1946-1964) and the increasing dominance in the workplace of the millennial generation (born 1981-1996).

A Pew Research Center analysis of labor force data published in July found that baby boomers are remaining in the labor force at percentages not seen since the 1960s. The study found that 29% of boomers aged 65 to 72 were either working or seeking work in 2018, a greater percentage than the same age group in the silent generation (born 1925-1946) at 21%, or the greatest generation (born 1900-1924) at 19%.

Time marches on, however, and the millennials are now the dominant force in the U.S. workplace.

An April 2018 study, also by the Pew Research Center, found that in 2017, millennials made up 35% of those either working or looking for work, the highest of any generational cohort.

Goss said America’s workforce is adjusting as manufacturing jobs, which for decades powered the middle class, continue their move to poorer regions of the globe. It’s a transfer, he said, that has seen some reversal between 2011 and 2019, a period during which manufacturing jobs in the United States increased by 9.5%, helping ease a long-term trend of job losses.

Despite those losses, Goss said, the U.S. economy is proving resilient, posting a growth rate of about 2% even in the face of economic slowdowns worldwide.

“Germany’s probably already in a recession, and China has declined dramatically,” he said. “I don’t know of an economy growing faster than the U.S.”

That bodes well for the entire U.S. workforce, Goss said, especially those who carry a university degree into job interviews.

“We’re focused on the long run,” he said of Creighton. “We’re focused on educating the human being in a broader sense, and our graduates are in high demand.”

Figures published in 2018 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the enduring value of a four-year college degree, even more so for higher degrees.

The bureau placed the median wage for a high school graduate at $730 a week, a figure that climbs to $1,198 a week for the holder of a bachelor’s degree, $1,434 for a master’s degree and $1,825 a week for a PhD.

“We can never deny the value of a college degree,” Goss said. “Look at CEOs of corporations. Most of them have liberal arts degrees in economics or English or history and then go on to get their MBAs. “Witness our enrollments. We must be doing a pretty good job.”

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