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February 1999, Vol. 122, No. 2
William C. Goodman and Timothy D. Consedine
Contrasts characterized the job market in 1998. In some industries employment expanded at an increased rate, while in others employment ceased to expand. Furthermore, several industries laid off substantial numbers of workers. Low interest rates and the associated high demand for housing contributed to large gains in employment in construction and some related industries, including finance. At the same time, severe economic problems in Asia reduced foreign demand for U.S. goods, contributing to a loss of almost 170,000 jobs in U.S. manufacturing. The devaluation of several Asian currencies made some imported goods more attractive in price, reducing domestic employment in apparel and other industries. In addition, U.S. job growth decreased in temporary help agencies and in health care. Overall, the 2.3-percent U.S. job gain in 1998 was slightly lower than the average gain of 2.6 percent during the previous 5 years of expansion in employment. (Chart 1 shows that the overall rate of job growth from 1993 through 1997 was relatively consistent and similar to that of the extended expansion of the 1980s.)
In 1998, the unemployment rate reached its lowest level in nearly three decades. It edged down early in the year to 4.3 percent and remained near that level for the rest of the year. Long-term joblessness, however, continued to account for a relatively large portion of the unemployed.
This article describes changes in the labor market in 1998, in comparison to trends during the earlier years of the current expansion. The data used are from two Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly surveys: the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of work sites and the Current Population Survey (CPS) of households.1 (See box on p. 4.)1
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1 Unless otherwise noted, the data presented are seasonally adjusted quarterly averages. The changes representing movements in 1998 generally are from the fourth quarter of 1997 to the fourth quarter of 1998. CES data for the fourth quarter of 1998 are preliminary.
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