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The Rising Skill Premium and Deunionization in the United States

Author

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  • Baris Kaymak

    (Universite de Montreal)

  • Omer Acikgoz

    (Yeshiva University)

Abstract

During the past 50 years, the US economy has been characterized by a rapid decline of labor unions and a substantial rise in the wage inequality. This paper proposes that the rise in the skill premium in the non-union sector, for instance, due to technical change, can potentially explain these trends. Based on the premise that labor unions compress wages between skilled and unskilled workers, a larger skill premium encourages skilled workers to withdraw from the union. If this is accompanied by a fall in the productivity of unskilled workers, firms become more reluctant to hire the relatively expensive union workers, reinforcing the decline in the unionization rate. To evaluate our hypothesis, we develop a macroeconomic model of endogenous union membership where union members are selected from the middle of the skill distribution and have significant wage gains that are decreasing in skill, consistent with the US evidence. The model predicts that the rise in skill prices in the non-union sector explains 30-60% of the decline in the unionization rate. It was argued that the declining union activity contributed to the rise in wage inequality by changing the labor force composition. We find this effect to be much smaller due to selection into union jobs.

Suggested Citation

  • Baris Kaymak & Omer Acikgoz, 2011. "The Rising Skill Premium and Deunionization in the United States," 2011 Meeting Papers 1433, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed011:1433
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    File URL: https://economicdynamics.org/meetpapers/2011/paper_1433.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Emin Dinlersoz & Jeremy Greenwood & Henry Hyatt, 2014. "Who do Unions Target? Unionization over the Life-Cycle of U.S. Businesses," NBER Working Papers 20151, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Krusell, Per & Rudanko, Leena, 2016. "Unions in a frictional labor market," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 35-50.
    3. Dinlersoz, Emin & Greenwood, Jeremy, 2016. "The rise and fall of unions in the United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 129-146.
    4. Den Haan, Wouter J. & Kobielarz, Michal L. & Rendahl, Pontus, 2015. "Exact present solution with consistent future approximation: a gridless algorithm to solve stochastic dynamic models," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86278, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    5. Emin Dinlersoz & Jeremy Greenwood & Henry Hyatt, 2017. "What Businesses Attract Unions? Unionization over the Life Cycle of U.S. Establishments," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 70(3), pages 733-766, May.
    6. Emin M. Dinlersoz & Jeremy Greenwood, 2012. "The Rise and Fall of Unions in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 18079, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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