Charts of the Day: Job Polarization

Virginia employment change since 2008. Source: StatChat

The good news in the ongoing evolution of Virginia’s economy is that employment in high-paying occupations has increased since 2008. The bad news is that employment in low-paying occupations has risen as well while employment in middle-class occupations is shrinking.

Kathryn Crespin with the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia published these charts from Bureau of Labor Statistics data in the StatChat blog.

“Job polarization is certainly not unique to Virginia,” she writes, but the trend has been more noticeable here since 2008 than in the rest of the country. … Although there has been an uptick in middle-wage job growth in Virginia over the past few years, job polarization is a nationwide, long-term trend that has developed over the past few decades and shows no signs of resolution any time soon.”

Virginia employment change since 2008. Source: StatChat

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4 responses to “Charts of the Day: Job Polarization”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I highly recommend reading the referenced Statchat Blog also:

    ” One possible explanation for job polarization is that the more routine job tasks associated with middle-wage work are more prone to offshoring and replacement by technology. By contrast, low- and high-wage occupations often require greater levels of personal interaction or more complex reasoning and communication skills that are not possible or cost-effective to offshore or automate”

    I think she is only half right … I don’t think low skill requires critical thinking and complex interactions…

    Low skill work is usually simple directed but physically hard work, often done by folks with limited education and language skills.

    High skill work DOES require critical thinking as well as good communication and collaboration skills – things we have yet to make the required core of our education standards in part because both parents and kids are afraid of because they are “difficult” and can hurt the grades of the college bound. Concern also as to what tougher standards would do to non-college bound graduation levels.

    We’ve sat still educationally still teaching 20th century rote knowledge.

    Typical private sector routine white collar – work is going away and people in those positions have two choices – either get more education and compete for the higher skill jobs… or don’t do that and drop down to the lower skill jobs and become part of the burgeoning labor pool of workers competing for
    job pool that is not expanding as fast as the labor pool is.

    If you are in the mid-career 45-60 age group in a doomed occupation – and decide to get more education – you’re still in a tough spot because you’re competing against younger folks for entry-level jobs and probably screwed on health insurance also. it’s bad all the way around but the alternative is worse!

    It’s now the same “dying job” problem that blue-collar factory workers and miners have – spreading to the white collar occupations.

    And I’d argue that Virginia is actually better off because two of the primary economic engines in the State are NoVa and Hampton – which are heavy on government jobs that essentially do not fire people who are well into their careers… even if the work is getting more and more automated – unlike the private sector. The same is probably true of Higher Ed to a lesser extent.

  2. Larry,

    She has an “or” between “greater levels of personal interaction” and “more complex reasoning and communication skills”. The classic example of low wage, greater levels of personal interaction would be fast food (food prep and serving in the graphic). Because it requires greater levels of personal interaction, it is difficult to off shore.

    This is not to say your points on education aren’t valid.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Izzo – thanks… no I saw the “or” … I just don’t see it as an “or” between critical thinking OR personal interaction… for basic labor..

      some basic labor does require interaction but more of it … and the workers themselves have limited education and literacy including language.

      But even in places that DO have human checkout lanes.. things are changing

      here you actually have fairly complex “interaction” and yet no direct human is required even though humans created the kiosk / checkout…

  3. A day late, but this article by Robert Samuelson in today’s WaPo is directly on point:

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