This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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The US Labor Force


We now turn from a general discussion of economic systems to some basic facts on the labor force in the world’s leading capitalist nation, the United States. The civilian labor force in the United States consists of all noninstitutionalized civilians 16 years of age or older who work for pay or are looking for work. The civilian labor force (hereafter labor force) consists of about 154 million people, or almost two-thirds of the population, including about 71 percent of men and 58 percent of women (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). [6]

Of those who are currently employed, approximately 2.4 million people work in the agricultural sector, and a much larger number, 138 million, work in nonagricultural industries. Of the latter number, 109 million work in private industry, 21 million work in government, and almost 9 million are self-employed. Most of the currently employed work full-time, but more than 26 million work only part-time. Of this number, 69 percent work part-time for noneconomic reasons; for example, they have childcare or other family obligations, or they are in school. Another 31 percent work part-time for economic reasons: They are unable to find a full-time job, or they may have lost a full-time job because of the faltering economy.

Approximately 87 million Americans ages 16 and older are not in the labor force. Of this number, 93 percent do not desire a job. Most of these individuals are retired, disabled, or taking care of children and/or other family members. Of the 7 percent who would like a job but are still not in the labor force, most have dropped out of the labor force (stopped looking for a job) because they have become discouraged after previously looking for work but not finding a job.

Some 5 percent of currently employed people have two or more jobs at any one time. This percentage translates to about 7 million individuals. It varies slightly by gender: 5.3 percent of employed women have at least two jobs, compared to 4.7 percent of employed men.

Chapter 4 "Gender Inequality" noted that women’s labor force participation soared during the last few decades. This general increase is even steeper for married women with children under 6 years of age: In 2009, almost 62 percent of such women were in the labor force, compared to less than 19 percent in 1960 (US Census Bureau, 2012), [7] a threefold difference (see Figure 12.2 "Labor Force Participation Rate of Married Women with Children Younger than 6 Years of Age, 1960–2007").

Figure 12.2 Labor Force Participation Rate of Married Women with Children Younger than 6 Years of Age, 1960–2007

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig12_002.jpg

Source: Data from US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab.


KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • The economy is the social institution that organizes the production, distribution, and consumption of a society’s goods and services. It consists of three sectors: the primary sector, the secondary sector, and the tertiary sector.

  • The two major economic systems in modern societies are capitalism and socialism. In practice, most societies have economies that mix elements of both systems but that lean toward one end of the capitalism–socialism continuum.

  • Social democracies combine elements of both capitalism and socialism. They have achieved high economic growth while maintaining political freedom and personal liberty.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. In what ways might capitalism be a better economic system than socialism? In what ways might socialism be a better economic system than capitalism?

  2. Write a brief essay in which you discuss the values capitalism and socialism seem to develop among the people who live under either type of economic system.

[1] Smith, A. (1910). The wealth of nations. (Original work published 1776). London, United Kingdom: University Paperbacks.

[2] Bowles, P. (2012). Capitalism. New York, NY: Longman; Cohen, G. A. (2009). Why not socialism? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[3] Lewis, A. (2012, January 14–15). Occupy Mitt Romney! Bangor Daily News, p. C3.

[4] Russell, J. W. (2011). Double standard: Social policy in Europe and the United States (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[5] Russell, J. W. (2011). Double standard: Social policy in Europe and the United States (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield; Sejersted, F. (2011). The age of social democracy: Norway and Sweden in the twentieth century (R. Daly, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). 2012 employment and earnings online. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/ee/home.htm.

[7] US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved fromhttp://www.census.gov/compendia/statab.


12.2 Sociological Perspectives on Work and the Economy

LEARNING OBJECTIVES


  1. List any two functions of work and the economy as emphasized by functionalism.

  2. Summarize conflict theory’s critique of work and the economy.

  3. Explain the overall approach of symbolic interactionism to understanding work and the economy.

The three sociological perspectives examined in earlier chapters continue to offer insights that help us understand the economy, including the nature of work on which any economy rests. Table 12.1 "Theory Snapshot" summarizes these insights.

Table 12.1 Theory Snapshot



Theoretical perspective

Major assumptions

Functionalism

Work and the economy serve several functions for society. The economy makes society possible by providing the goods and services it needs. Work gives people an income and also provides them some self-fulfillment and part of their identity.

Conflict theory

Control of the economy enables the economic elite to maintain their position at the top of society and to keep those at the bottom in their place. Work is often alienating, and the workplace is often a site for sexual harassment and other problems.

Symbolic interactionism

This perspective focuses on social interaction in the workplace, on how employees respond to problems in their workplaces, and on how they perceive the work they do.

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