The State of U.S. Work in 2018: A Look Back

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Working Americans in 2018 generally enjoyed many highs and, unlike previous years, minimal lows when it came to earning a living. Among the promise of this upward climb, key themes have emerged as we prepare for the new year.

There are more jobs than qualified people

One of the prevailing themes that topped 2018 is the job surplus that the U.S. labor market is experiencing – there are simply more job opportunities than qualified workers to fill them. The opportunity to work was shared across gender, racial and educational lines as the unemployment rate, at 3.7%, hit its lowest point since 1969. More broadly, monthly job increases have averaged more than 200,000, and hourly wages have even seen a marginal increase as employers look more to worker retention than acquisition as the qualified worker pool shrinks.

While these signs of growth are good, the shortage of qualified workers is projected to continue to increase. Between now and 2030, the prime-working-age population of 25 to 54-year-olds is projected to grow just 0.5% per year – much slower than previous decades when baby boomers dominated, and the working-age population growth averaged 1.8% per year. With fewer people to choose from, the question for 2019 and beyond becomes whether the U.S. can continue to successfully grow as the gap widens between job openings and worker population.

Technology’s sustained influence

As technology affects everything we do today, workers expect a superior digital experience when searching for, accepting and conducting work. Having the right processes and technologies in place to effectively enable employees, as well as constantly pursuing digital innovation, is critical for companies looking to stay ahead of the competition.

Complimenting the effective use of technology is the growing adoption of flexible work environments and hours by companies. With work-life balance becoming an increasing priority for a shrinking qualified workforce, companies have become more willing to adapt to their needs to help retain talent. Companies must also leverage technology to ensure that their employees invest in their mission and culture and provide regular opportunities for growth to achieve retention goals.

In 2019 and beyond, the pursuit of innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), will help sustain employment success. AI has made a sweeping impact on human-oriented functions across many industries — 72% of business executives believe AI will be the business advantage of the future. Companies can enable more informed business decisions, process massive amounts of data, and drive faster, more realistic experiences for creating a synergy between enterprise processes and system usability for companies and workers alike. (Learn how AI is driving more informed sourcing and management decisions.)

The Gig economy

Beyond talent shortages and technology, this year also brought more government attention to the gig economy, including how to categorize it in labor reports, how to regulate it, and how to get gig economy workers’ benefits. A common challenge is that while some categorize gig economy workers with independent contractors, others question grouping them together at all, and many aren’t sure whether to consider them “employees.” Plus, employee privacy laws are on the rise, with individual states passing laws to protect personal information, making categorizing employees even more important.

How non-traditional workers are identified is an issue that will only continue to gain traction as the mounting popularity of the freelance style of work – 36% of the U.S. workforce, and growing – is forcing the government to take notice and will certainly bring more action in the future.

For more on these topics, check out the following resources:

1) White Paper: “The Gig Economy: What’s Hot vs. What’s Hype”
2) Podcast: How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Contingent Workforce Management
3) Newsletter: The Latest U.S. and Global Regulatory Updates


 If you’re interested in learning more about how PRO is helping organizations implement winning contingent workforce programs globally, please contact a PRO representative at 800.291.1099 or email at

Disclaimer: The content in this blog post is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice. The blog post reflects the opinion of PRO Unlimited and is not to be construed as legal solutions and positions. Contact an attorney for specific advice and guidance for specific issues or questions.

  Industry Insights
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