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Service-sector workers make up 32 percentage of total U.S. workforce, which is equivalent to almost 48 million Americans (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). The purpose of this study is to enhance our understanding of service-sector workers, defined as those who work in the retail, accommodations and food services, and health and social work industries, by investigating their demographic profiles and numeracy skills, using data from the U.S. 2012/2014 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey.
Perspectives or theoretical framework
Even though more than 48 million Americans work in the service-sector industries, one of the biggest stereotypes of service-sector workers is that they are young adults working temporary jobs. While it may be that some of service-sector workers are young adults trying to make extra money while in college, unfortunately those who are employed in the service-sector industry often make low wages, work unpredictable schedules, and have few opportunities for promotion (Aspen Institute, n.d.). To better support those who are in this industry to be able to move up the ladder or pursue other off-the-ladder career opportunities, it is important to understand the demographic characteristics and numeracy skills of these workers, and to encourage policymakers and adult educators to utilize these findings to provide more targeted support for their upskilling efforts.
Methods & Data Sources
The U.S. 2012/2014 PIAAC survey data were used to conduct frequency distribution analyses for a number of variables related to demographic characteristics, English language proficiency status, recent education and training activities, and labor force characteristics of adults aged 16-64. Only individuals who are currently employed with non-high skill occupations are included in the analysis (so, for example, those in occupations including manager, owner, or physicians were excluded). Then the distributions of variables included in the analysis were compared between the service-sector workers with high and low numeracy performance on the PIAAC numeracy assessment. Additionally, comparisons were made among all employed adults in non-high skill occupations aged 16 to 64 across all industries who performed low and high on the numeracy assessment.
For all analyses, the appropriate sampling weights and replicate weights were used to calculate percentages. All 10 plausible values were used to determine proficiency level for each individuals. The t-test was conducted between the individuals with high and low performance on the numeracy as well as between those in the service-sector industry and all industries with alpha level of 0.01.
Results & Significance of the study
When looking at the demographic characteristics, the service-sector workers with high skill levels are young, have higher education levels, tend to stay less than 2 years with the current employer; while those with low skill levels are older, have less education, and tend to stay more than 6 years with the current employer. These findings suggest that service-sector workers have unique profiles of demographic, educational, upskilling efforts, and skill use not only compared to all employed adults, but also by their numeracy skill level within the sector.