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The great reversal in the demand for skill and cognitive tasks

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  • Paul Beadry
  • Paul Beaudry
  • David A. Green
  • Ben Sand

Abstract

What explains the current low rate of employment in the US? While there has been substantial debate over this question in recent years, we believe that considerable added insight can be derived by focusing on changes in the labor market at the turn of the century. In particular, we argue that in about the year 2000, the demand for skill (or, more specifically, for cognitive tasks often associated with high educational skill) underwent a reversal. Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de- skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force all together. In order to understand these patterns, we offer a simple extension to the standard skill biased technical change model that views cognitive tasks as a stock rather than a flow. We show how such a model can explain the reversal in the data that we present, and offers a novel interpretation of the current employment situation in the US.

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Paper provided by Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE in its series STICERD - Public Economics Programme Discussion Papers with number 22.

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Date of creation: Nov 2013
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Handle: RePEc:cep:stippp:22

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Web page: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/default.asp

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  1. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2001. "The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," NBER Working Papers 8337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: the Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0604, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  3. Katz, L.F. & Murphy, K.M., 1991. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1580, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Increasing Residual Wage Inequality: Composition Effects, Noisy Data, or Rising Demand for Skill?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 461-498, June.
  5. Nidardo, J. & Fortin, N. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Papers 93-94-15, California Irvine - School of Social Sciences.
  6. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2003. "Lousy and lovely jobs: the rising polarization of work in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20002, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. Nir Jaimovich & Henry E. Siu, 2012. "The Trend is the Cycle: Job Polarization and Jobless Recoveries," NBER Working Papers 18334, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Chinhui Juhn, 1999. "Wage inequality and demand for skill: Evidence from five decades," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(3), pages 424-443, April.
  9. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
  10. Carlaw, Kenneth I. & Lipsey, Richard G., 2002. "Externalities, technological complementarities and sustained economic growth," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(8-9), pages 1305-1315, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Anna Sabadash, 2013. "ICT-induced Technological Progress and Employment: A Literature Review," JRC-IPTS Working Papers on Digital Economy 2013-07, Institute of Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre.
  2. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2013. "Spatial Changes in Labour Market Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 7600, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. d'Haultfoeuille, Xavier & Maurel, Arnaud & Zhang, Yichong, 2014. "Extremal Quantile Regressions for Selection Models and the Black-White Wage Gap," IZA Discussion Papers 8256, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Abel, Jaison R. & Deitz, Richard, 2013. "Do the benefits of college still outweigh the costs?," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 20.
  5. Christopher L. Smith, 2013. "The dynamics of labor market polarization," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-57, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  6. Abel, Jaison R. & Deitz, Richard & Su, Yaquin, 2014. "Are recent college graduates finding good jobs?," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 20.
  7. Summerfield, Fraser, 2014. "Labor Market Conditions, Skill Requirements and Education Mismatch," CLSSRN working papers clsrn_admin-2014-19, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 28 Apr 2014.
  8. Green, David A. & Sand, Benjamin, 2014. "Has the Canadian Labour Market Polarized?," CLSSRN working papers clsrn_admin-2014-18, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 28 Apr 2014.
  9. Consoli,Davide & Vona,Francesco & Rentocchini,Francesco, 2014. "That was then, this is now: Skills and Routinization in the 2000s," INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) Working Paper Series 201306, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).
  10. Anna Sabadash, 2013. "ICT-induced Technological Progress and Employment: a Happy Marriage or a Dangerous Liaison? A Literature Review," JRC-IPTS Working Papers JRC76143, Institute for Prospective and Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre.

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