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Can you have a middle class without middle-class jobs?

From David Autor's paper, "The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market" (pdf):

The structure of job opportunities in the United States has sharply polarized over the past two decades, with expanding job opportunities in both high-skill, high-wage occupations and low-skill, low wage occupations, coupled with contracting opportunities in middle-wage, middle-skill white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Concretely, employment and earnings are rising in both high education professional, technical, and managerial occupations and, since the late 1980s, in low-education food service, personal care, and protective service occupations. Conversely, job opportunities are declining in both middle skill, white collar clerical, administrative, and sales occupations and in middle-skill, blue-collar production, craft, and operative occupations.

Take a look (click for a larger version):


By Ezra Klein  |  August 4, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
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face it , we have a govt for and by the ultra wealthy.
the fools who support the GOP want bibilical rules while they live in poverty

Posted by: newagent99 | August 4, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

To answer the title's question, yes, but it would take outside income support to make up the loss in wages (government-provided or subsidized childcare, a reformed housing policy, etc.), which in turn would require tax increases on the higher brackets. Extending things like food stamps up the income ladder could bring the middle class to accepting "working" class jobs and reverse the job opening-to-unemployed gap noted in this post:

Posted by: imartin1 | August 4, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

While there is no question that the Middle Class is imperiled by stagnating wages and inadequate workforce training, Autor's study overstates the attrition of Middle-skill jobs. In a recent rebuttal posted on the Center for American Progress website, Georgetown economist Harry Holzer illustrates how Middle-skill occupations are projected to comprise a signficant share of overall employment:

Posted by: factchecked | August 4, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse


I think it will be a tough sell for a politician to tell the formerly middle class that they're now going to have to work jobs that require getting food stamps. It is much better to focus on how we can create more jobs that actually pay a middle class salary.

Posted by: sp6runderrated | August 4, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I would just like to point out that the research is not united on Autor's conclusion.

For example, see this report on middle skill jobs (which has plenty of flaws of its own):

Posted by: madjoy | August 4, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

This confirms a problem which I have been thinking about for some time, which is the disconnect between the conventional wisdom that the cure for income inequality is increasing the amount and quality of education, vs. almost all labor market projections I have seen, which seem to indicate that the highest rate of job growth is in low skill (or at least low wage) occupations such as home health aide. I think the real question we have to ask is what kind of life do we feel people with low wage jobs are entitled too - i.e., are they entitled to a safe place to live, decent food, access to adequate health care, a decent education for their children, etc., etc. The inescapable conclusion, as imartin1 implies, is that the upper income classes are going to have to carry a bit more of the load.

Posted by: guesswhosue | August 4, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

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