The changing job picture

We face two big job questions:  First, will jobs come back? And second, where will the new jobs be? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden tackles the second question.

“Our economy used to generate a job structure that I’ll call fat in the middle. That is, we had a few very high-paying jobs; we had a few very low-paying jobs; but most of our jobs in our economy were concentrated in the middle. And that grew the great middle class in our country.

“Economists think now that that job structure is changing; it;s becoming more shaped like a dumbbell — very fat at the top, high-paying jobs; very fat at the bottom, low-paying jobs; and not as many in the middle. And I think this is occurring for a couple of reasons: number one, the returns — the benefits to a worker having a college degree and beyond has increased. And so people, those jobs are in demand and people are getting those degrees — college degrees — because they can see the income that goes along with them.

“At the bottom end of our economy, we are generating a lot of jobs in the personal services area where you need people to help other people. Health care would be a good example of this, where you are having technicians and home health care aids, etc. Those are exploding numbers of jobs.

“And in the middle, for example, are factory jobs. And we are still a manufacturing country, but we are not using as many people because many of those jobs have been replaced by technology and equipment.

“So the bottom line here is that there will be jobs for folks who don’t go on and get advanced training, but they are going to be low paying. The really good jobs are going to require a college degree. And we are not having as much of that glue, if you will, in the middle.”

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