Folbre: “The Sagging of the Middle Class”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, economics, writes in the Economix blog in the New York Times about sagging job and income growth in the middle class in recent decades. She says this trend threatens to derail reaching the American dream for many families. (New York Times, 6/14/10)

June 14, 2010
The Sagging of the Middle Class
By NANCY FOLBRE

The fact that middle-wage jobs, rather than low-wage jobs, are declining suggests it is not the overall level of skill but the specific type of skill that matters. In fact, skill itself may be less important than other characteristics of a task, such as how easily it can be automated or outsourced at some point in the future.

Alan Blinder of Princeton observesthat some jobs are simply more outsourceable than others because they don’t require physical proximity or person-specific skills. The combination of rapid technological change and increased global trade in services has effectively devalued skills that many individuals spent considerable time and effort to acquire.

Consider, for instance, the possible extinction of travel agents and the gloomy job prospects facing journalists. The expansion of online education sites replete with videotaped lectures by superstar professors will almost certainly reduce demand for a skill I labored to develop for many years — lecturing to large classes of economics majors.

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