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On Jobs And Work: Robert Reich Replies

Readers Report


Aaron Bernstein points to a disturbing trend in his commentary "The U.S. is still cranking out lousy jobs" (The Workplace, Oct. 10). Over the past six years, job growth has been concentrated in high-wage occupations and in traditionally low-wage industries. So it is a misreading of the evidence to conclude that all employment growth is in lousy jobs. First, as Bernstein notes, there has been strong growth in managerial and professional jobs, which tend to pay high wages. Second, in the past two years high-wage industries have started to show stronger growth. Indeed, there have been more net jobs created in above-median-wage industries so far this year than in the previous five years combined.

Nevertheless, as your thoughtful article "Rethinking work" (Special Report, Oct. 17) highlights, underlying the trends in job growth has been a divergence in fortunes of American workers based on skills. While the nearly 5 million jobs added to the economy over the past two years pay better than average, most American workers still occupy the 110 million or so old jobs. Structural changes have led to more demand for skilled workers and less demand for the unskilled. Recent data show that the economy continues to generate well-paying jobs for workers with a high level of education and training. Changes in the U.S. economy mean there's an urgent need to improve the skills of the workforce.

In response to new realities, the Clinton Administration has pursued an agenda of lifelong learning for all Americans. For example, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, signed by the President in May, is working to create and sustain jobs for young Americans by linking education to work experience. The Goals 2000 Act, signed into law in March, is not only setting educational standards but also putting in place a system of standards or "occupational passports" to give workers objective, portable certification that they have the skills to win and keep jobs. We have laid the foundation for a new reemployment system to help workers who lose their jobs find new jobs and new careers, including one-stop career centers that offer training and education, computerized jobs banks, and career counseling.

The surest way to bolster the middle class and produce prosperity is to improve the skills of the workforce. The public and private sectors, working together, can help millions cross the great divide from old work to new.

Robert B. Reich

Labor Secretary


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