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September 5, 1999 - Job Titles - 2002-02-05

INTRO: Millions of American workers will get the day off on Monday to celebrate Labor Day. In honor of the national holiday, VOA Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti look at a publication that the U-S Department of Labor is about to issue which offers a snapshot of the American workforce.

MUSIC - "9 to 5"/Dolly Parton

RS: The new Department of Labor book classifies some 30-thousand jobs into 842 occupations.


"The Census Bureau will use it to describe occupations on the 2000 Census. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will use it for its occupational employment statistics. Other federal agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Science Foundation and so forth will be using the same classifications to talk about occupations that are important to their work."

AA: That's Daniel Weinberg. He heads the Census Bureau division that is currently revising the existing opus of job titles and definitions.

RS: Mr. Weinberg says the 1999 edition of what's officially called the "Standard Occupational Classification System" reflects recent changes in the working world, especially the shift toward more service and high-tech jobs.


"We've focused, for example, on the computer area, where we've added job titles like `computer software engineer.' We've also increased the number of categories for post- secondary teachers. We've tended to reduce jobs in industries that have been getting fewer and fewer workers. For example, we've combined a number of production occupations.

"We've increased the number of gaming occupations as gambling seems to have been more widespread."

AA: The Census Bureau began classifying job titles as far back as the 1850 census. While jobs like lawyers, carpenters and brokers are still around, others have just vanished with the times.


DANIEL WEINBERG: "The one I liked most was `salaeratus maker.' That was one of the few that I couldn't find in my abridged dictionary. I had to go to the massive, huge thousand-plus page dictionary to find out what `salaeratus' was. It turned out to be `baking soda.'"

RS: "So, (the job would be) a baking soda maker?"

DANIEL WEINBERG: `That was actually an occupation in the 1850 Census.'"

AA: "What do you call that person today?"

DANIEL WEINBERG: "I assume that (he/she) is just a worker in a chemical plant.

AA: Mr. Weinberg has a staff to update job descriptions, relying on the work-related responses they get from periodic Census Bureau questionnaires that ask Americans to describe the work they do.

RS: Jobs are then classified among the 842 occupation categories on the list. Mr. Weinberg says his staff tries to make each job title gender-neutral. For example, letter carrier, police officer and firefighter have replaced postman, policeman, and fireman.


DANIEL WEINBERG: "Any word with `man' in it we changed. Fisherman became a `fisher.'"

AA: "Now, how many fishermen out on the sea do you think would describe themselves as `fishers?'"

DANIEL WEINBERG: "Very few, but that doesn't matter. If they write down on the Census form, that they are fishermen, we'll put them in the `fisher' occupation. We're not going to misclassify them just because they use a gender specific term.

"But people still call themselves a waitress, or a waiter. So, we actually kept that particular job description in the `tandard Occupational Classification,' but we said `waiters' and `waitresses.'"

RS: "And, actors and actresses, I presume."


AA: At the same time, some job titles have been upgraded - for instance, "secretary" is now "executive assistant."

Whatever your job title is, we'd love to hear from you. Our e-mail address is

RS: Or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20547 USA. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.