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December 1983, Vol. 106, No. 12
Trends in employment and
unemployment in families
Deborah Pisetzner Klein
The monthly employment and unemployment statistics receive a great deal of national attention because they are a useful yardstick of the state of the economy. In addition to the overall measures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a wide range of data series focusing on specific worker groups. In recent years, there has been an expansion in the data series that enable us to examine the situation of individual workers in a family context. These data provide additional insights into the personal impact of employment and unemployment, because family members often pool their earnings and support each other both financially and emotionally when out of work. This article explores recent trends in employment and unemployment in families.1
In 1982, 85 percent of the labor force lived in family units. (Of the remainder, 10 million lived alone and 7 million lived with nonrelatives, such as roommates or housemates.) As table 1 shows, more than a third of the labor force consisted of husbands and nearly a quarter were wives. Including other related persons (mostly teenagers and young adults), more than 70 percent of the labor force lived in married-couple families. In recent years, however, there has been a very marked increase in the number of families maintained by women on their own. In 1982, nearly one-tenth of the labor force lived in such families, including the women themselves, their older children (age 16 and over), and other relatives. Families maintained by unmarried men constituted the remainder of the labor force.
With the increase in the number of families maintained by women, and growing labor force participation by wives, husbands are no longer the mainstay of the market economy. Married men accounted for only 36 percent of the labor force in 1982, down from 41 percent just 5 years earlier and 52 percent in 1955.
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1 The source of data is the Current Population Survey, a monthly sample survey of households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data relate to the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years of age and over. A description of the survey appears in the Bureau of Labor Statistics publication. Employment and Earnings. Some of the series were seasonally adjusted for the first time for this article.
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