Massachusetts Institute of Technology
labor economist David Autor cited a
decades-long trend that significantly
intensified during the Great Recession:
the polarization of job opportunities
in the American labor market.71 U.S.
employment growth is becoming increasingly concentrated in high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low-wage jobs
while the middle ground is shrinking.
Since the mid-1970s, Autor said, the
rise in U.S. education levels has not kept
up with the rising demand for skilled
workers. The slowdown in educational
attainment has been particularly severe
for men. The result has been a sharp
rise in wage disparity. In 1980, he noted,
workers with a four-year college degree
earned 50% more per hour than those
with a high school diploma. In 2008,
they earned 95% more.
An important factor behind the rising
wage gap is the polarization of job
opportunities: they are either high-skill,
high-wage professional, technical, or
managerial occupations, or they are low-skill, low-wage food service, personal care,
or protective services jobs. Middle-skill,
white-collar clerical, administrative, and
sales occupations, and middle-skill, blue-collar production, craft, and operative jobs
are in decline. Employment losses during
the Great Recession were more severe
in middle-skill white- and blue-collar
jobs than in either high-skill white-collar
occupations or in low-skill service jobs.
This phenomenon is not unique to
the U.S.; it is widespread across industrialized economies. Key contributors are
the automation of routine work and, to
a lesser extent, the international integration of labor markets through trade and,
more recently, offshoring.
Future of Staffing and Recruiting
What do these macroeconomic
trends mean for the U.S. staffing and
While economic and labor market
forces favor both short- and long-
term growth for the industry, the most
successful firms will focus on the sectors
with the greatest potential for job creation.
Those that specialize in high-skill or low-
skill occupations will be better positioned
to meet the changing demands of busi-
ness in the post-recession economy.
Steven P. Berchem, CSP, is vice president
of the American Staffing Association. Alexandra Karaer, ASA director of research,
assisted in the preparation of this analysis.
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