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Posted at 3:17 PM ET, 02/16/2011

The hollowing of the middle in one graph

By Ezra Klein

Gallup has new data out measuring the change in unemployment over the last year for workers with different levels of education. What you'll notice in the graph is that the number of jobs created has nothing to do with the number of jobs lost. Rather, it has to do with where the jobs were lost. Low-skill and high-skills jobs are coming back. The jobs in the middle aren't:

hollowingjobs.jpg

This is not new. It's the continuation -- and perhaps the acceleration -- of a multi-decade trend that MIT economist David Autor detailed in this paper (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.

Economies don't generally do well without a middle.

By Ezra Klein  | February 16, 2011; 3:17 PM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs, Economy  
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Comments

This makes no sense to me. Middle skilled jobs are where the opportunities are in the U.S. economy at least for the next decade. The problem is not the jobs, it's in the matching of skills to the jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 40 percent and 45 percent of all job openings in the economy through 2014 will be in middle-skilled occupations, compared to one-third in high-skilled occupations and 22 percent in low-skilled service occupations.

Posted by: horacemann | February 16, 2011 4:18 PM | Report abuse

The changes are much less interesting than the overall rates by education. Higher learning leads to higher earning and more stability. I make this point to my kids, you either will be a minimum wage earner or a professional. There will be no middle ground. AND at the top you must compete with everyone else in the world with your same academic level.

Posted by: sailor0245 | February 16, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Countries don't generally do well without a middle.

Posted by: john91011 | February 16, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

*I make this point to my kids, you either will be a minimum wage earner or a professional. There will be no middle ground.*

So this state of affairs is good if you want to create an economy that ensures maximum punishment for those who don't "make it" by acquiring a high-level education-- but that's tens of millions of people. Do we really WANT an economy divided between high earners and a minimum wage servant class?

Posted by: constans | February 16, 2011 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Does this mean job seekers with some college will "pad" their resumes by claiming to have only a high school diploma?

Posted by: dpurp | February 16, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

horacemann, what is confusing you is the perception that the growth is in the middle skilled jobs. It's not.

Posted by: elkiii_2008 | February 16, 2011 8:40 PM | Report abuse

isn't the same trend being reported in europe and japan

Posted by: jamesoneill | February 17, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

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.

In my company computers and the internet have allowed us to greatly reduce the middle occupations that is book keeping and sales staff.

I think that there is not reason for this:

Economies don't generally do well without a middle.

to be true. I am concerned that the poor have a decent life but if they do, I do not much care if most middle class people fall to that level.

Posted by: jwogdn | February 17, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

@horacemann wrote, “This makes no sense to me. Middle skilled jobs are where the opportunities are in the U.S. economy at least for the next decade.”

It would be good if this were so, but that is NOT supported by the data presented (or, to my knowledge, any other). You are implicitly forecasting a sharp change from recent history. This will make sense if you read this as descriptive instead of projective (or hoped-for).

There IS some hope for lower unemployment rates in the middle, however: a smaller fraction of the populace could be getting college degrees. With fewer grads chasing a fixed number of jobs, the prospects could be improved for those individuals who DO get degrees. Alas, while it's hopeful for individuals, it does nothing for the prospects for society, perhaps further hollowing out the middle.

Posted by: WaltFrench | February 18, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

@horacemann wrote, “This makes no sense to me. Middle skilled jobs are where the opportunities are in the U.S. economy at least for the next decade.”

It would be good if this were so, but that is NOT supported by the data presented (or, to my knowledge, any other). You are implicitly forecasting a sharp change from recent history. This will make sense if you read this as descriptive instead of projective (or hoped-for).

There IS some hope for lower unemployment rates in the middle, however: a smaller fraction of the populace could be getting college degrees. With fewer grads chasing a fixed number of jobs, the prospects could be improved for those individuals who DO get degrees. Alas, while it's hopeful for individuals, it does nothing for the prospects for society, perhaps further hollowing out the middle.

Posted by: WaltFrench | February 18, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

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