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Is There a Skills Crisis? Trends in Job Skill Requirements, Technology, and Wage Inequality in the United States

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  • Michael J. Handel

Abstract

Despite seven years of economic growth a large gap exists in the wages earned by workers at the top of the earnings scale and those at the bottom. The leading explanation for this growth in wage inequality continues to be the skills-mismatch theory. This theory in part posits that gains in technology have resulted in jobs having highly technical skill requirements that have outpaced growth in worker skills; demand for highly skilled workers therefore rises more swiftly than that for less-skilled workers, creating upward pressure on wages for those with the most skills. The empirical evidence is examined here and shows that there is little evidence to support the mismatch theory as there has been little sign of a shortage of workers with computer or general technical skills. If the analysis is correct, then policies currently used to close the wage gap, such as improved education and training, will not alone solve the inequality problem. Rather, the solution may require macroeconomic policies aimed at maintaining economic growth and full employment, and labor policies, such as the minimum wage, that support the earnings of workers at the lower end of the wage scale.

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  • Michael J. Handel, "undated". "Is There a Skills Crisis? Trends in Job Skill Requirements, Technology, and Wage Inequality in the United States," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_62, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:levppb:ppb_62
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Michael J. Handel, 1999. "Computers and the Wage Structure," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_285, Levy Economics Institute.
    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. Gale, H. Frederick, Jr., 1997. "Is There A Rural-Urban Technology Gap? Results of the ERS Rural Manufacturing Survey," Agricultural Information Bulletins 33709, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    5. repec:mes:challe:v:38:y:1995:i:1:p:27-35 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. John E. DiNardo & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 1997. "The Returns to Computer Use Revisited: Have Pencils Changed the Wage Structure Too?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 291-303.
    7. Jill Constantine & David Neumark, 1994. "Training and the Growth of Wage Inequality," NBER Working Papers 4729, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
    9. Peter Gottschalk & Timothy M. Smeeding, 1997. "Cross-National Comparisons of Earnings and Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 633-687, June.
    10. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-266, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael J. Handel, 2000. "Trends in Direct Measures of Job Skill Requirements," Macroeconomics 0004048, EconWPA.

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