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The Growth of Low Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market

  • Autor, David



  • Dorn, David


    (University of Zurich)

We offer an integrated explanation and empirical analysis of the polarization of U.S. employment and wages between 1980 and 2005, and the concurrent growth of low skill service occupations. We attribute polarization to the interaction between consumer preferences, which favor variety over specialization, and the falling cost of automating routine, codifiable job tasks. Applying a spatial equilibrium model, we derive, test, and confirm four implications of this hypothesis. Local labor markets that were specialized in routine activities differentially adopted information technology, reallocated low skill labor into service occupations (employment polarization), experienced earnings growth at the tails of the distribution (wage polarization), and received inflows of skilled labor.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 7068.

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Length: 58 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: American Economic Review, 2013, 103 (5), 1553-1597
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7068
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  1. 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.
  2. Acemoglu, Daron, 1996. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 1459, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  6. John Bound & Harry J. Holzer, 1996. "Demand Shifts, Population Adjustments, and Labor Market Outcomes during the 1980s," NBER Working Papers 5685, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Ngai, L. Rachel & Pissarides, Christopher A., 2005. "Structural Change in a Multi-Sector Model of Growth," IZA Discussion Papers 1800, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
  9. Autor, David & Dorn, David, 2009. "This Job Is 'Getting Old:' Measuring Changes in Job Opportunities Using Occupational Age Structure," IZA Discussion Papers 3970, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Weiss, Matthias, 2008. "Skill-biased technological change: Is there hope for the unskilled?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 439-441, September.
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  13. Katz, Lawrence F. & Autor, David H., 1999. "Changes in the wage structure and earnings inequality," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1463-1555 Elsevier.
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  19. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb, 2009. "The Wealth of Cities: Agglomeration Economies and Spatial Equilibrium in the United States," NBER Working Papers 14806, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  22. Lefter, Alexandru & Sand, Benjamin M., 2011. "Job Polarization in the U.S.: A Reassessment of the Evidence from the 1980s and 1990s," Economics Working Paper Series 1103, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
  23. Alan Manning, 2004. "We Can Work It Out: the Impact of Technological Change on the Demand for Low Skill Workers," CEP Discussion Papers dp0640, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  24. Krugman, Paul, 1991. "Increasing Returns and Economic Geography," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(3), pages 483-99, June.
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  26. 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.
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