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Polarization in US – The declining prominence of middle-skill jobs

The number of people performing low-skill, low-pay, manual labor tasks has grown along with the number undertaking high-skill, high-pay, nonroutine, principally problem-solving jobs.

Employment in the United States is becoming increasingly polar- ized, growing ever more con- centrated in the highest- and lowest-paying occupations and creating growing income inequality. The causes and consequences of this trend are often considered in the context of what has been a relatively “jobless” recovery from the Great Recession.

Market changes involving middle-skill jobs in the U.S. are hastening labor market polarization. The distribution of jobs by skill level has shifted dramatically since 1980 (Chart 1). The number of jobs requiring medium levels of skill has shrunk, while the number at both ends of the distribution—those requiring high and low skill levels—has expanded.

This declining prominence of middle-skill jobs is not driven by changes in labor market institutions, such as declining unionization. Rather, an increase in automation of routine tasks, a relative scarcity of skilled workers and to a lesser extent, relocation of jobs outside the country have led to the relative expansion of two kinds of jobs in the U.S. The number of people performing low-skill, low-pay, manual labor tasks has grown along with the num- ber undertaking high-skill, high-pay, nonroutine, principally problem-solving jobs.

These changes have been relatively abrupt, with losses in routine employment concentrated in the recessions of 1990–91, 2001 and especially 2008–09. Unlike with earlier downturns, middle-skill jobs were not recovered in the expansions that fol- lowed these contractions.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-10 à 13.20.26

Start of Polarization

The rise in the shares of high-skill and low-skill jobs became evident about two decades ago (Chart 2). The U.S. labor market did not experience much polarization in the 1980s: Low-skill jobs were replaced by high-skill jobs, while the number of middle-skill jobs remained largely unchanged. Instead, polarization began about 25 years ago, in the early 1990s, and intensified in the last decade.


Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Middle-Skill Jobs Lost in U.S. Labor Market Polarization 

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5 thoughts on “Polarization in US – The declining prominence of middle-skill jobs

  1. Exceptionally exciting piece of writing

    Posted by Dylan Hall | July 31, 2014, 12:16 am
  2. I hardly ever comment on these articles, but I
    thought this on deserved a thumb up

    Posted by Gabriel Rivera | August 6, 2014, 3:40 pm


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