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Job Polarization in the U.S.: A Reassessment of the Evidence from the 1980s and 1990s

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  • Lefter, Alexandru
  • Sand, Benjamin M.

Abstract

In this paper, we review the evidence for job polarization in the U.S. and provide a description of the occupational employment changes that characterized the U.S. labor market during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. We begin by replicating the existing job polarization trends, which are produced using a modified occupational coding scheme intended to make occupational categories comparable over time. Using two alternative procedures to obtain consistent occupational codes across decades, we show that the finding that jobs polarized in the 1990s relative to the 1980s no longer holds. Instead, we find that occupational employment shifts were very similar during the two decades. In addition, we demonstrate that the method used to rank occupations according to their skill content has a substantial impact on the employment growth in low-skill job categories. Finally, using an additional occupational crosswalk that allows us to obtain consistent occupational categories from 1970 to 2002, we provide evidence in favor of a long-term trend towards employment growth in high-skill jobs and employment decline in some middle-skill jobs, but no sharp contrast between the 1980s and the 1990s. Our findings suggest that the evolution of the occupational employment structure and the divergent wage growth patterns observed during the 1980s and 1990s do not easily fit within the routinization story as usually told.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:usg:econwp:2011:03
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    File URL: http://ux-tauri.unisg.ch/RePEc/usg/econwp/EWP-1103.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Maarten Goos & Alan Manning & Anna Salomons, 2009. "Job Polarization in Europe," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 58-63, May.
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    3. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    4. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The skill content of recent technological change: an empirical exploration," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
    5. Christian Dustmann & Johannes Ludsteck & Uta Schönberg, 2009. "Revisiting the German Wage Structure," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 843-881.
    6. Acemoglu, Daron & Autor, David, 2011. "Skills, Tasks and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 12, pages 1043-1171, Elsevier.
    7. David Autor & David Dorn, 2009. "This Job Is "Getting Old": Measuring Changes in Job Opportunities Using Occupational Age Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 45-51, May.
    8. 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.
    9. David Card & John E. DiNardo, 2002. "Skill-Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 733-783, October.
    10. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
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    Blog mentions

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    1. Are the job polarization data robust?
      by Heidi Shierholz in Working Economics on 2013-01-18 20:49:40

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    Cited by:

    1. David A. Green & Benjamin M. Sand, 2015. "Has the Canadian labour market polarized?," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 48(2), pages 612-646, May.
    2. Shim, Myungkyu & Yang, Hee-Seung, 2016. "New stylized facts on occupational employment and their implications: Evidence from consistent employment data," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 402-415.
    3. Guido Matias Cortes, 2016. "Where Have the Middle-Wage Workers Gone? A Study of Polarization Using Panel Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 63-105.
    4. David H. Autor & David Dorn, 2013. "The Growth of Low-Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the US Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1553-1597, August.
    5. Lindley, Joanne & Machin, Stephen, 2014. "Spatial changes in labour market inequality," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 121-138.
    6. Andrea Salvatori, 2018. "The anatomy of job polarisation in the UK," Journal for Labour Market Research, Springer;Institute for Employment Research/ Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), vol. 52(1), pages 1-15, December.
    7. Michael Coelli & Jeff Borland, 2016. "Job Polarisation and Earnings Inequality in Australia," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 92(296), pages 1-27, March.
    8. Hunt, Jennifer & Nunn, Ryan, 2019. "Is Employment Polarization Informative about Wage Inequality and Is Employment Really Polarizing?," IZA Discussion Papers 12472, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    9. Michael Coelli & Jeff Borland, 2015. "Job polarisation and earnings inequality in Australia," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 1192, The University of Melbourne.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Job Polarization; Occupational Employment; Employment Growth; Wage Inequality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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