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Home Publications Reports Don't Blame the Robots: Assessing the Job Polarization Explanation of Growing Wage Inequality

Don't Blame the Robots: Assessing the Job Polarization Explanation of Growing Wage Inequality

November 2013, Lawrence Mishel, Heidi Shierholz, and John Schmitt

Many economists contend that technology is the primary driver of the increase in wage inequality since the late 1970s, as technology-induced job skill requirements have outpaced the growing education levels of the workforce. The influential “skill-biased technological change” (SBTC) explanation claims that technology raises demand for educated workers, thus allowing them to command higher wages—which in turn increases wage inequality. A more recent SBTC explanation focuses on computerization’s role in increasing employment in both higher-wage and lower-wage occupations, resulting in “job polarization.” This paper contends that current SBTC models—such as the education-focused “canonical model” and the more recent “tasks framework” or “job polarization” approach mentioned above—do not adequately account for key wage patterns (namely, rising wage inequality) over the last three decades.

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