IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/fip/fedfwp/2013-27.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share

Author

Listed:
  • Elsby, Michael

    (University of Edinburgh)

  • Hobijn, Bart

    (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)

  • Sahin, Aysegül

    (Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Abstract

Over the past quarter century, labor’s share of income in the United States has trended downwards, reaching its lowest level in the postwar period after the Great Recession. Detailed examination of the magnitude, determinants and implications of this decline delivers five conclusions. First, around one third of the decline in the published labor share is an artifact of a progressive understatement of the labor income of the self-employed underlying the headline measure. Second, movements in labor’s share are not a feature solely of recent U.S. history: The relative stability of the aggregate labor share prior to the 1980s in fact veiled substantial, though offsetting, movements in labor shares within industries. By contrast, the recent decline has been dominated by trade and manufacturing sectors. Third, U.S. data provide limited support for neoclassical explanations based on the substitution of capital for (unskilled) labor to exploit technical change embodied in new capital goods. Fourth, institutional explanations based on the decline in unionization also receive weak support. Finally, we provide evidence that highlights the offshoring of the labor-intensive component of the U.S. supply chain as a leading potential explanation of the decline in the U.S. labor share over the past 25 years. ; Prepared for Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, September 19-20, 2013.

Suggested Citation

  • Elsby, Michael & Hobijn, Bart & Sahin, Aysegül, 2013. "The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share," Working Paper Series 2013-27, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2013-27
    DOI: 10.24148/wp2013-27
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/files/wp2013-27.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Gali, Jordi & Gertler, Mark, 1999. "Inflation dynamics: A structural econometric analysis," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 195-222, October.
    2. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78.
    3. Eli Berman & John Bound & Zvi Griliches, 1994. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U. S. Manufacturing: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufactures," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 367-397.
    4. Robert C. Feenstra & Gordon H. Hanson, 1999. "The Impact of Outsourcing and High-Technology Capital on Wages: Estimates For the United States, 1979–1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 907-940.
    5. Brent Neiman, 2014. "The Global Decline of the Labor Share," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(1), pages 61-103.
    6. Lowell E. Gallaway, 1964. "The Theory of Relative Shares," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 78(4), pages 574-591.
    7. Barry T. Hirsch & David A. MacPherson, 2003. "Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey: Note," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(2), pages 349-354, January.
    8. Sbordone, Argia M., 2002. "Prices and unit labor costs: a new test of price stickiness," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 265-292, March.
    9. Robert S. Chirinko, 2008. "ó: The Long And Short Of It," CESifo Working Paper Series 2234, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Charles P. Himmelberg & James M. Mahoney & April Bang & Brian Chernoff, 2004. "Recent revisions to corporate profits: what we know and when we knew it," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 10(Mar).
    11. Erik Hurst & Geng Li & Benjamin Pugsley, 2014. "Are Household Surveys Like Tax Forms? Evidence from Income Underreporting of the Self-Employed," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(1), pages 19-33, March.
    12. repec:oup:qjecon:v:129:y:2013:i:1:p:61-103 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Douglas Gollin, 2002. "Getting Income Shares Right," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(2), pages 458-474, April.
    14. Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Cheating Ourselves: The Economics of Tax Evasion," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 25-48, Winter.
    15. Eli Berman & John Bound & Zvi Griliches, 1993. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U.S. Manufacturing Industries: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufacturing," NBER Working Papers 4255, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Chirinko, Robert S., 2008. "[sigma]: The long and short of it," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 671-686, June.
    17. Bound, John & Johnson, George, 1992. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the 1980's: An Evaluation of Alternative Explanations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 371-392, June.
    18. Paul Gomme & Peter Rupert, 2004. "Measuring labor’s share of income," Policy Discussion Papers, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue Nov.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Monetary; policy;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2013-27. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Research Library). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/frbsfus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.