Stephen J. Rose looks at The Myth of Middle-Class Job Loss in today's WSJ (sub req):
It is certainly true that many jobs in manufacturing clothing, steel, metal products and automobiles have gone overseas. Plant closures not only devastate the workers who are displaced, but they have also undermined the vitality of whole communities in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, to name just a few places. But while such communities are a clear sign of the decline in some sectors of the economy, there has been strong employment growth in many other sectors. In research just published by the Progressive Policy Institute, I show that incomes and employment have grown by substantial amounts in every state (even in the so-called Rust Belt) since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.
In fact, there is no convincing, data-driven proof that trade has led to any overall job loss during the last 30 years. To the contrary, the economy has grown at a slow but steady rate (a few brief recessions notwithstanding) with trade and employment rising in tandem.
Before you dismiss Rose's rosey-eyed views as neo-capitalist apologetics for free markets and trade, consider his cred:
Mr. Rose is senior economic fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, where he recently authored a report titled "The Truth About Middle Class Jobs." He has worked both for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and as an adviser to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
He goes on to look at who has gained the most in middle-class employment:
Nevertheless, there has clearly been a sharp increase in female middle-class employment. As recently as 1979, 61% of female workers were in jobs that paid less than $25,000, and only 3% earned more than $50,000 a year. By contrast, more than 36% of new jobs that opened since 1979 for women pay more than $50,000 and only 17% pay less than $25,000.
Critics who bemoan the trajectory of the American economy over the past three decades somehow find it convenient to overlook or play down this historic improvement in the employment status and income levels of women. While women still lag in pay compared to men of similar educational attainment, the extraordinary rise in women's income since 1979 is a fact at odds with the notion of an overall decline in the American middle class.
And who lost:
For men, the change in employment since 1979 has not been quite as clear-cut, or as positive. There has been a tremendous growth in the number of men in high-paying jobs: In 1979, just 10% of male workers earned above $75,000, while fully 34% of new jobs since 1979 have paid this amount or more.
However, there was also growth in the share of male workers earning less than $25,000 a year, from 23% in 1979 to 36% by 2005. This rise of low-paying jobs hit less-educated men particularly hard. For those with just a high school diploma, 87% of the new jobs paid $25,000 or less.
Here's the bottom line: For three-quarters of the workforce (women and the top half of male earners), economic growth translated into earnings gains. But for male workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution, the decline of unionized manufacturing employment has led to the drying up of some middle-class jobs for those with no post-secondary education.
Rose goes on to say that increasing unionization and the minimum wage would help improve the situation for middle-class men with no college degree. However, he neglects to mention the impact that immigration (legal & illegal) has had on this group.
Lawyers, engineers, corporate managers, and other white collar workers probably enjoy a net benefit from immigration (especially the illegal kind) in lower costs for goods and services. It's the "working man" that has paid the price in stagnate wages and no amount of increased unionization or minimum wage is going to change that until something is done to stop the largely unfettered stream that continually refills the pool of cheap immigrant labor.
Unfortunately, our current political leaders seem more concerned with limiting trade (not the cause of the problem!) than immigration.