The signposts for the changes described by Osterman include flattened workplace hierarchies, broadened and variable work tasks for each job, reduced job tenure, increased use of part-time and temporary workers, alternative work arrangements, and higher rates of job displacement. There is strong evidence in the work disability literature that providing flexible working conditions and job autonomy reduces the probability that an individual with an impairment will stop working (Yelin et al., 1980). Indeed, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates the provision of such accommodations to help sustain employment (West, 1991). The model underlying research on the effects of accommodation on employment, as well as the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA, is that increased autonomy to perform an existing mix of job demands in the context of a long-term relationship with an employer will improve job prospects. However, it is not known how well persons with disabilities can function when asked to flexibly shift among job tasks and work groups, especially with decreased levels of job security.

Ongoing data collection efforts at the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measure some of the shifts in working conditions—job tenure, frequency of part-time and temporary employment, alternative work arrangements, and rates of job displacement. They do not capture changes in the nature of workplace hierarchies and in the mix of work tasks for each job. Obtaining such information will be critical in assessing the functional demands of work and, therefore, in assessing the capacity of persons with disabilities to function on the job.


Table 6 shows the change in the number of employees and share of nonagricultural employment among industries since 1960. It provides information on the most tangible signpost of the change in the nature of work. In 1960, the goods-producing sectors of the economy (mining and construction, and manufacturing) accounted for 6.7 and 31.0 percent of employment, respectively. Since then, the share of employment accounted for by mining and construction has decreased by about one-fifth, and the share accounted for by manufacturing has decreased by more than half (53.9 percent). Indeed, at a time when total employment more than doubled (datum not in table), the absolute number of manufacturing workers increased by only 9.5 percent, from 16.8 million in 1960 to 18.4 million in 1999. Thus, as of 1999, the goods-producing sectors of the economy accounted for less than one-fifth of total employment.

Concurrently, there was substantial growth in the share of employment accounted for by the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors (20.4 percent, net of a decline from 6.1 to 5.9 percent between 1990 and 1999)

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