The shape of the job market

Date posted: October 8, 2013

Many people describe today’s job market as bottom heavy, meaning most of the new jobs being created are low paying. Does this accurately describe what is happening particularly here in North Carolina? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“I’ve looked at the numbers, and I think a better description would be that the job market is currently like a dumb bell. You’ve got big gains on the low end. You’ve got big gains at the upper end, which mirrors where the weights are on the dumbbell. And we have very few gains in the middle, which applies to the handle in between those weights.

“If you look at the data over the last three years, we see, for example, at the low-paying end, we’ve had big gains in food preparation jobs and personal care jobs. But we’ve also had significant gains in the number of jobs in areas like business, finance and advanced health care — all very high paying. The biggest middle paying job gain that we’ve seen is in protective services. But on the other hand, we’ve lost significant jobs — middle paying jobs in areas like teaching and construction.

“Really the question is why? Why are we seeing this? And there are some economists who say, ‘Well, it’s a result of technology. Technology has been taking away a lot of those middle paying jobs.’ But there’s another possibility, and that is that we’re not training people for some of those middle paying jobs that we have available. For example, a recent study by a national consulting firm said that in seven years the nation is going to face a shortage of about 900,000 qualified people for middle paying jobs, jobs like welding, machinists machinery operators.

“Now this has implications, obviously, for education, for what kind of educational programs we offer, particularly in high school. So this is an issue, but it may be an issue that we can deal with.”

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