Clinton's economists report good job trends Team aims to counter perception that many are filled with anxiety

April 24, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The truth about job trends is so good in this country, argues a new report from the White House, that it's hard to understand the perception that so many people are riddled with economic anxiety.

That's the message from a study released yesterday by President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers.

After months of negative publicity about the United States' economic mood -- trumpeted first by Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan, then amplified by the news media -- the CEA decided to examine job trends.

Many findings -- in an economic report with political overtones -- contradict prevailing beliefs. Here's what the CEA found:

The United States has had a net increase of 8.5 million jobs since January 1993, far more than any other leading industrial democracy.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of the new jobs paid better than the median U.S. wage of $480 a week (in 1996 dollars). They included occupations such as those of lawyers, accountants, electricians, marketing managers and school teachers. "Employment in 'hamburger-flipping jobs' actually fell between 1994 and 1995," the report says.

Most new jobs are full time; in fact, part-time jobs are dropping as a share of the work force.

Only about 6 percent of workers today hold more than one job, the same as in the late 1980s.

"What this report says is that in many ways, things are better than they were a few years ago," summed up Joseph Stiglitz, chairman of the CEA.

Some things are worse, Mr. Stiglitz hastened to note, for his report strives to strike a delicate balance.

On one hand it is designed to show that the economy is doing well by most measures -- and Mr. Stiglitz's boss, President Clinton, is happy to claim credit for that. Each president chooses his CEA members, who hold no power other than to analyze and advise. Traditionally, presidents select only highly regarded economists for the CEA to ensure that their work will be respected. Mr. Stiglitz, a renowned economist at Stanford University before joining Mr. Clinton's team, is in that tradition.

On the other hand, the report takes pains to acknowledge that despite so much good news, some problems remain, such as stagnant blue-collar wages -- and Mr. Clinton is offering proposals to address them.

"The anxiety felt by many workers is real and important," the report concedes. In that vein, it offers one -- but only one -- set of statistics that might shed light on why anxiety may be rising along with rosy job trends.

Those statistics show that older white-collar workers were more likely to lose their jobs during the 1991-92 recession than they had been during the 1981-82 recession -- but only slightly more likely, and still far less likely than blue-collar workers.

That trend, however slight, may help explain why white-collar workers may feel more job anxiety today than they typically did in the past, Mr. Stiglitz said.

Comparable Labor Department data profiling who lost jobs over the past three years will not be available before this summer, but Mr. Stiglitz noted that corporate America has been downsizing for 20 years, while small and mid-size businesses continue to provide dynamic job growth.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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