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Surviving the Shift

Workers Have Had to Adapt as Global Trade, Technology Transform the Nation's Workforce

By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page E01

EASTON, Md. -- Jeannette Blanchfield counts herself among the survivors in the nation's churning labor market.

Blanchfield, 55, was among hundreds of employees who lost their jobs in 2003, when Black & Decker Corp. shuttered its power-tool factory here, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and moved most of the work to Mexico. She had worked at the plant for 28 years, starting out on an electrical cord assembly line and rising through the ranks to operating a forklift to move parts for cordless power drills.

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"I was scared to death" by the idea of looking for a new job, Blanchfield recalled during a recent interview in one of the plant's offices. Turned out, she didn't have to go far; she was hired by the plant's new tenant, defense contractor SFA Inc. of Largo.

SFA uses the cavernous building to produce mobile latrines, laundry rooms, showers and other military field support systems for the U.S. Army. In a building that hummed with more than 1,000 workers in its heyday, SFA employs about 100 people, including about 20 former Black & Decker plant workers. Today Blanchfield works in a cubicle, at a computer, helping manage inventory there.

As Blanchfield put it, she was "one of the lucky ones," both in Easton and in the nation, having landed a job with one of the many U.S. employers that expanded their workforces in recent years, even as others were slashing their payrolls.

Her experience illustrates the changing nature of the American workplace as global competition, new technologies and shifts in demand have transformed the kinds of jobs many workers hold.

By last December the nation had about as many workers on non-farm payrolls as before the recession. However, the economic contraction and recovery of recent years redistributed jobs among industries, states and the sexes, according to a Washington Post analysis of Labor Department figures. Some of the changes reflected the acceleration of long-term trends, while others resulted from the events unique to the period.

A Gradual Repositioning

Jeans factories, computer makers, major airlines, telephone companies, newspapers and retailers were among the industries that shed jobs almost continuously from March 2001, when employment peaked and the recession began, through December 2004, the latest month for which figures are available.

Other employers kept hiring as they rode a rising tide of demand for certain services and products, particularly in education, health, home-building and local government, the data show. Companies such as SFA also thrived by supplying specialized services and products to the federal government as it spent more on homeland security and defense.

Meanwhile, Wall Street firms and Internet information sites lost jobs during the recession, which ended in November 2001, and initial stages of the economic recovery that followed. But they were part of several industries that started hiring again more recently as the economy gained strength.


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