Middle-Class Jobs Are Still Here, They Are Just in Different Places

© Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg/Getty Images
© Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg/Getty Images

There were more open jobs in the U.S. last month than at any point since January 2001. Yet despite what appears to be the best job market in more than 14 years, many Americans still feel that the economic recovery has not really taken hold for them and that the sort of solid, middle-class jobs that used to be available to Americans with a high school education simply do not exist anymore. 

Alongside workers struggling to find well-paying work are businesses claiming that they can’t find the workers they need. With an unemployment rate still hovering at 5.5 percent and a labor force participation rate near historical lows, employers continue to report that they cannot fill many of those open positions.

Economist Harry J. Holzer, a professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, offers some encouragement for both workers and business owners. Holzer’s analysis of BLS data suggests that solid middle-class jobs — what Holzer refers to as “middle-skill” work — has not so much disappeared from the U.S. as it has shifted from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy.

“Declining middle-wage jobs often involve the performance of very routine tasks — such as working on an assembly line or typing manuscripts — that can easily be performed by various forms of digital technology,” Holzer writes. “In contrast, the jobs that are growing and still pay well increasingly require more complex reasoning or communications skills.”

As a result, he notes, “The traditional middle of the job market — composed primarily of construction, production and clerical jobs that require fairly little education — has indeed been declining rapidly. But another set of middle-skill jobs — requiring more postsecondary education or training — in health care, mechanical maintenance and repair and some services — is consistently growing, as are skill needs within traditionally unskilled jobs. Among these are the ones that employers have had trouble filling.”

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Source: Fiscal Times | Rob Garver

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