Clinton to nominate UM economist to labor post, officials say

President Clinton plans to nominate Katherine G. Abraham, a labor economist at the University of Maryland, as the new commissioner of the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, administration officials and colleagues of Ms. Abraham said yesterday.

If nominated and confirmed by Congress, Dr. Abraham, 38, who has spent most of her career in academia, will head the agency that produces several of the most important statistics for measuring the economic health of the nation and for gauging the success of any administration. These include the monthly unemployment rate and the inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index.


"She is really quite good, a major researcher who has done important work on the nature of the labor force today," said Richard Freeman, a labor economist at Harvard University, where Dr. Abraham received a doctorate in economics in 1982.

The bureau commissioner has traditionally been a professional economist with considerable experience in survey work and statistical analysis. Dr. Abraham fits this mold, having done considerable research on unemployment data and on temporary and contract workers, a growing workplace issue. In a survey of 442 companies that used temporary workers, for example, she found that 23 percent brought in the workers with the goal of finding good candidates for permanent jobs.


Another study, of which she was a co-author, found that older workers with 30 years or more of service were 3.6 times as likely to be laid off or dismissed as employees with eight to 10 years' service -- perhaps because the companies found the younger workers were more productive for their salaries than the higher-paid older workers.

Reached by telephone, Dr. Abraham declined to comment on the reports that she was President Clinton's choice for commissioner. She would replace Janet Norwood, who resigned Dec. 31, 1991, after more than a decade in the job, and became a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a research group in Washington.

Before Dr. Abraham was chosen, the Clinton administration had offered the position to Rebecca Blank, an associate professor and labor economist at Northwestern University, economists reported, who decided not to move to the Washington area.

Dr. Abraham, a native of Ames, Iowa, holds a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University. She joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1988.