The Growth of Low Skill Service Jobs and the Polarization of the U.S. Labor Market
58 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2009 Last revised: 26 May 2021
Date Written: July 2009
We offer an integrated explanation and empirical analysis of the polarization of U.S. employment and wages between 1980 and 2005, and the concurrent growth of low skill service occupations. We attribute polarization to the interaction between consumer preferences, which favor variety over specialization, and the falling cost of automating routine, codifiable job tasks. Applying a spatial equilibrium model, we derive, test, and confirm four implications of this hypothesis. Local labor markets that were specialized in routine activities differentially adopted information technology, reallocated low skill labor into service occupations (employment polarization), experienced earnings growth at the tails of the distribution (wage polarization), and received inflows of skilled labor.
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