Is Demand for High-Skill Workers Declining?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


I’ve written before about my belief that something happened to the economy around the year 2000. A whole bunch of different measures seem to have inflected right around then, and although the subsequent declines were partly masked by the housing bubble of the aughts, they were happening all along. When the Great Recession hit, a decade’s worth of decline was telescoped into a couple of years.

Via Arnold Kling, a trio of researchers have a new paper out that points to yet another thing that appears to have suddenly inflected right around 2000: the demand for high-skill workers. Here’s their key finding:

In Figure 12 we plot the fraction of individuals aged 18-65 employed in occupations that require substantial cognitive skills….This ratio increased substantially from 1980 to 2000, and then it appears to reach a plateau over the period 2000-2010. On this ?gure, we also report a (per capita) supply index for cognitive occupations.

….There are two key features of Figure 12 that we wish to highlight. First, from 1980 to about 2000, employment in cognitive jobs grew faster than the supply index, suggesting that demand for cognitive tasks outstripped supply. In contrast, after 2000, the supply index continued to grow at a similar rate as in the pre-2000 period, but cognitive employment stalled. We interpret these trends as suggesting that demand for cognitive jobs likely decreased over this second period.

The authors explain that the college premium for workers remains high regardless of this, because educated workers are simply getting pushed down the employment ladder, where they’re performing more routine jobs. But many routine jobs are disappearing too, so workers in these occupations are getting pushed down too. A degree may not be as valuable as it once was, but relative to not having a degree, it’s still pretty valuable.

But back to the original point: what happened starting around 2000 that could have dampened our previously growing demand for high-skill workers? The authors don’t try to guess, but I will: steadily improving automation. More on this later.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate