Division, The 1980s and 1990s were decades in which spurious labour absorption, meaning rapid growth in low-productivity jobs, took place on a large scale in most of the Latin American countries. This was a major setback to expectations about reforms that had sought to internationalize the countries' economies and position them as competitive, high-productivity producers. This paper describes the evolution of productive labour absorption since the post-war years. It reaffirms the value of this category of analysis, regarded in ECLAC thinking as the main link between technical progress in economic activities and improvements to the living conditions of the population, particularly the poor. It also shows how important it is to place the productive heterogeneity of Latin America at the centre of the analysis, along with the consequences for social mobility of weak economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s and the particular type of productive transformation that has occurred.