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The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks

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  • Paul Beaudry
  • David A. Green
  • Benjamin M. 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 trends 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 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18901.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Publication status: Forthcoming: The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks , Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, Ben Sand. in The Labor Market in the Aftermath of the Great Recession , Mas and Card. 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18901

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  1. 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.
  2. DiNardo, John & Fortin, Nicole M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1001-44, September.
  3. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The Skill Content Of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1279-1333, November.
  4. 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.
  5. Katz, Lawrence F & Murphy, Kevin M, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78, February.
  6. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning, 2007. "Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(1), pages 118-133, February.
  7. Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2013. "Spatial Changes in Labour Market Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 7600, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. repec:ipt:iptwpa:jrc76143 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2014. "Spatial changes in labour market inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 121-138.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.).
  9. 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.

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