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Q&A: Changes in the U.S. Economy

These are encouraging signs of a better educated workforce.

Question: The service sector employs more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy — and this is good? Where are the manufacturing jobs and the steel mills? And you want me to be encouraged?

Ric: I can certainly understand your angst at the fact that the United States is no longer the industrial powerhouse it once was.

But, that said, yes, you should indeed be encouraged. Although it’s true that manufacturing employment has dropped from 53 percent in the 1950s to less than 6 percent today, it is also true that agricultural employment fell from 90 percent in 1850 to less than 15 percent in 1950 and today is less than 3 percent. I don’t think you’d suggest that we’d all be better off if everyone went back to the hard physical labor working on farms like we were 150 years ago.

Just as our nation shifted from an agricultural society to the Industrial Age, now it is giving way to the Information Age — meaning the service sector. This is outstanding, and we are the world leader. People have better jobs — more interesting, lower physical risk, higher in pay, with longer capacity because we can work using our brains for many more years than we can using our backs.

Equally important, the U.S. industrial sector that matters most — technology — is strong and growing. Foreign nations are making low-tech products (think textiles) while we remain leaders in such areas as pharmaceuticals and high-tech equipment. Again, we have smarter, higher-paid workers doing more interesting work.

There is certainly disruption as a result of this. Many jobs are being eliminated, and those workers must get retrained. But such is the nature of growth. A better-educated workforce is how the United States will remain the world economic power it has been for 100 years. So, yes, you should be encouraged!

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