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Jobs for everyone

THE American economy has been remarkable in recent years in continuing to expand. Good news. The flip side of the coin, however, is not so shiny. A substantial number of the new positions involve relatively low- paying service tasks; moreover, fewer new jobs are geared to the middle class and above. As a study just released by the congressional Joint Economic Committee concludes, more than half of the 8 million jobs created between 1979 and 1984 paid less than $7,000 a year. Meantime, the number of new jobs paying $28,000 or more declined.

It would be unhealthy for the United States to develop a rigidly fragmented, two-tier wage structure. The immediate effect would be felt by young people and college graduates entering the labor force, although all workers could ultimately be affected. Some studies of the job market for college graduates seeking work next spring suggest that while starting salaries will be higher in a number of key fields, slightly fewer positions will be available overall.

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Young people, or older, experienced workers, can take some comfort in the knowledge that their individual job prospects are not determined by the general employment market. Employers are always eager to find workers possessing acumen, industriousness, and inventiveness.

At the same time, Washington should be alert to the implications of the economic trend now under way. Policies should be devised to stem a further loss of higher-paying manufacturing jobs. Tax policies can be honed to encourage job formation in general. The United States must avoid developing a sharply segmented, two-tier job market - with the growing jobs sector anchored at the lower end of the economic scale.

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