Inequality and Specialization: The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs in the United States
AbstractAfter a decade in which wages and employment fell precipitously in low-skill occupations and expanded in high-skill occupations, the shape of U.S. earnings and job growth sharply polarized in the 1990s. Employment shares and relative earnings rose in both low and high-skill jobs, leading to a distinct U-shaped relationship between skill levels and employment and wage growth. This paper analyzes the sources of the changing shape of the lower-tail of the U.S. wage and employment distributions. A first contribution is to document a hitherto unknown fact: the twisting of the lower tail is substantially accounted for by a single proximate cause − rising employment and wages in low-education, in-person service occupations. We study the determinants of this rise at the level of local labor markets over the period of 1950 through 2005. Our approach is rooted in a model of changing task specialization in which "routine" clerical and production tasks are displaced by automation. We find that in labor markets that were initially specialized in routine-intensive occupations, employment and wages polarized after 1980, with growing employment and earnings in both high-skill occupations and low-skill service jobs.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 4290.
Length: 57 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2009
Date of revision:
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Find related papers by JEL classification:
- E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution
- J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
- J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
- J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
- O33 - Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth - - Technological Change; Research and Development; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2009-07-17 (All new papers)
- NEP-HRM-2009-07-17 (Human Capital & Human Resource Management)
- NEP-LAB-2009-07-17 (Labour Economics)
- NEP-LTV-2009-07-17 (Unemployment, Inequality & Poverty)
- NEP-MAC-2009-07-17 (Macroeconomics)
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