Is the Recovery Leading to More Job Polarization?

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Saturday, 07 June 2014 07:50

That's what the Washington Post told readers.

"Unemployment fell from 3.3 to 3.2 percent for people with a bachelor's degree or more, and from 5.7 to 5.5 percent for those with some college. But it actually rose from 6.3 to 6.5 percent for people with only a high school diploma, and from 8.9 to 9.1 percent for those without one.

"In other words, our polarized labor market isn't getting any less so. The Cleveland Fed points out that routine jobs disappeared during the Great Recession, and haven't come back during the not-so-great-recovery — which partly explains why our economic upswing, such as it is, has been much less dramatic for the least educated."

The data doesn't necessarily agree with this story. If we ignore monthly changes, since these are extremely erratic, and instead look at the changes over the last two years we see that the unemployment rate for college grads in the first five months of 2014 averaged 3.3 percent, down 0.8 percentage points from its 4.1 percent average in the first five months of 2012. By comparison, the unemployment rate for those with just a high school degree averaged 6.4 percent, down by 1.8 percentage points from two years ago. Those with less than high school degrees saw a drop in their unemployment rate of 2.5 percentage points from 12.9 percent in 2012 to 9.4 percent in the first five months of this year.

If we go back to 2010 we see a comparable pattern. The drop in the unemployment rate from the 2010 peaks was 1.5 percentage points for college grads, 4.3 percentage points for high school grads, and 5.6 percentage points for those without a high school degree. The declines in unemployment rates in percentage terms were actually larger for less-educated workers than for college grads. But hey, why let the data get in the way of a good story?