You don’t need to be a Ph.D. economist to know something big is happening in the job market.
The salaries of Wall Street’s financial engineers are surging while wages in industrial companies stagnate. Manufacturers complain about “skill shortages” while cutting payrolls. The number of health-care jobs soars 45% over 15 years, outstripping the 25% increase in other jobs. Computers seem to have infiltrated every job, yet demand for unskilled, low-wage immigrants doesn’t abate.
For decades, employers in the U.S. and other industrialized countries sought more skilled workers as technology and the availability of low-wage workers abroad diminished the employers’ appetite for lesser-skilled workers at home. It was painful, but simple: Employers of all sorts wanted more skills and more education, and paid more to get them.
How do you think the U.S. job market is changing? Should the government do anything to respond to those changes?
It is no longer that simple. Cue the Ph.D. economists.
There is still strong demand for high-end workers — the stars of finance, software, law, sports and entertainment — as well as for the highest-skilled factory workers. The only news is the intensity of that demand, which is pushing up pay for those at the top.
But — and here’s the switch — demand is increasing for some workers at the low end of the pay scale: the ones who wipe brows in hospitals, care for kids, clear tables at bistros and stand guard in office-building lobbies. In 1980, about 13% of workers without any college education were working in such personal-service jobs, according to calculations by David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. In 2005, 20% of them were.
The losers? “The sagging middle,” says Princeton University economist Alan Krueger.