Perhaps not since the days of the Great Society has a government report become so quickly etched in the minds of federal policy-makers as the "Workforce 2000" study prepared in 1987 by the Hudson Institute.
Most notably, the report concluded in its executive summary that "only 15 percent of the new entrants to the labor force over the next 13 years will be native white males compared to 47 percent in that category today." It was one of a half-dozen key findings highlighted in a report that was to alter the focus of government manpower policy.
The report triggered a flurry of activity in government and private industry, where employers suddenly found themselves faced with the need to look beyond white males to find and train skilled workers to meet their competitive needs.
"For companies that had previously hired mostly young white men, the years ahead will require major changes," the report said. "Organizations from the military services to the trucking industry will be forced to look beyond their traditional sources of personnel."
Roger D. Semerad, then an assistant secretary of labor, wrote in the foreword to the report that the findings of the Hudson Institute researchers would serve as the "basic intelligence" for federal policy-makers. He said the Labor Department had already begun to rethink its policies in light of the Workforce 2000 findings.
Since then, the Workforce 2000 report has spawned further studies, led to new commissions and changed the lexicon of American management in describing changes facing the workplace of the future.
Enter now the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official scorekeeper of workplace data.
Tucked away in a chart on the last page of an article in the November 1989 edition of the Monthly Labor Review, a BLS publication, is a much different picture of the work force at the turn of the century. According to BLS statistics, white males will account for 31.6 percent of the new entrants, not the 15 percent projected by the Hudson Institute.
As a result, over the last year, the Labor Department has been backing away from the Workforce 2000 projection. "We're using the BLS numbers now," said a Labor Department spokeswoman.
Carol Romero, deputy research director for the department's National Commission for Employment Policy, called the error "sort of unusual," adding, "It's a shame it happened in a report like this."
Despite the error, Romero said, "the issues that the Workforce 2000 report raised are still legitimate and they've been confirmed by other works."
The error in the Hudson Institute study appears to be in the editing, not the math. Ron Kutscher, associate commissioner of BLS in charge of employment projections, called the error "a matter of incorrect labeling."
Arnold Packer, a codirector of the Workforce 2000 report while at the Hudson Institute and now staff director of a special workplace skills commission created at the Labor Department in response to the 1987 report, said, "It was an editing error."
Buried in the text of the 117-page report, the authors correctly stated that "white males, thought of only a generation ago as the mainstays of the economy, will comprise only 15 percent of the net additions to the labor force between 1985 and 2000."
But somehow when the report's editors put together the executive summary -- the easy reader for leaders of government and industry -- the word "net" was dropped, making the projection off by more than 100 percent.
To get the number used in the report, the Hudson Institute researchers projected the number of white males entering the work force between 1985, the base year of their study, and the year 2000, and compared it to the number of white males projected to leave the work force during the same period. In the study, the net change of white male representation in the total labor force was 15 percent.
The latest BLS statistics, using 1988 as a base year, show that 31.6 percent of the new job entrants by the end of the century will be white males, as will be 48.2 percent of those leaving. As a share of the total work force, the net change is 11.6 percent.
BLS Commissioner Janet Norwood said she did not believe the error seriously undercuts the Workforce 2000 report, adding that the concept of net change was difficult to explain in general terms.
"I think that in an attempt to popularize and to make clear in a very few words, there was some misunderstanding," Norwood said.