Advocacy organizations such as 9 to 5 National Assn. of Working Women and the Service Employees International Union have been warning for some time that the trend toward automation of offices presents threats to the health and economic futures of clerical workers.
Now the economic concern has been confirmed by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment in a major report, requested by Congress, on the future of America's offices. The report, "Automation of America's Offices, 1985-2000," predicts, among other things, that the rapidly increasing use of technology such as computers and advanced telecommunications will cause slowing in the growth of office employment for the next decade and possibly a decline in the 1990s. Workers at the clerical level are expected to be affected the most.
The impact on workers, particularly women, of a change in this sector of employment is enormous. Office work has been the fastest growing source of jobs for most of this century. Almost half of all American workers--clerical, managerial and professional--are employed in offices. Even in manufacturing, 30% of all employees are office workers. One in three employed American women is a clerical worker.
By 1990, the report predicted, there may be a computer terminal for every three office workers, and by 2000, terminals will be as ubiquitous as telephones. However, it is not the use of terminals that is transforming office work and may eliminate jobs, but the technology that allows links or networks of computers--the "integrated office." A great part of clerical work today, though it may be done on a video display terminal instead of a typewriter, is essentially the same as in the past: The bulk of clerical work is transferring information from one form to another--from dictation to paper, from one document to another, from paper to computer or from one computer to another. In the automated office, computers "read" and store data from paper without the need for keyboarding personnel. Computers transfer information to other computers automatically.