Stephen J. Rose, the author of the commentary quoted below, was previously an advisor to Democratic President Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich. He is currently a senior economic fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute. The commentary is based on Rose’s report "The Truth About Middle Class Jobs."
Economic change is a messy process. New technologies open up many opportunities for those prepared to take advantage of them. At the same time, old firms and their workers are displaced and forced to start over. In 1900, for example, 40% of the U.S. work force was involved in agriculture. Today, that figure is less than 2%, and no serious observer would argue that we are worse off as a result of this transformation.
Yet many of today’s most prominent politicians and pundits are making an updated version of precisely this argument. They claim that the decline in the number of manufacturing jobs has led to the replacement of good middle-class jobs by low-skill, low-pay "hamburger-flipping" service jobs.
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Let us look at the distribution of earnings in 1979, compared with the distribution of earnings of the net new jobs created since that year. . . .
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Here’s the bottom line: For three-quarters of the workforce (women and the top half of male earners), economic growth translated into earnings gains. But for male workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution, the decline of unionized manufacturing employment has led to the drying up of some middle-class jobs for those with no post-secondary education.
For the clear majority of the workforce, then, the job market has become more welcoming, not less so. But where are these jobs?
Using a framework that I developed in the 1990s, I find that most of the employment gains over the last 30 years have been in business-management activities (administration, sales, finance and business services) as well as in professional services such as health care and education. While the percentage of U.S. jobs derived from manual work in agriculture, mining, timber and manufacturing has declined, the share of jobs related to low-skilled retail and personal/food services has remained steady.
For the full commentary, see:
STEPHEN J. ROSE. "The Myth of Middle-Class Job Loss." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 24, 2007): A21.
(Note: ellipses added.)