New research from the Hamilton Project shows just how bad the last couple of decades have been for American workers without much education, and offers some insights as to why.
One of the most startling statistics to come out of the 23-year study that includes three recessions and three recoveries, is that the median earnings of working men aged 30 to 45 without a high school diploma fell 20% from 1990 to 2013 when adjusted for inflation.
Men fared worse than women.
The New York Times article says “less-educated Americans, especially men, are shifting away from manufacturing and other jobs that once offered higher pay, and a higher share are now working in lower-paying food service, cleaning and grounds keeping jobs.”
At the same time, “pay levels are declining in almost all of the fields that employ less-educated workers, so even those who have held onto jobs as manufacturers, operators and laborers are making less than they would have a generation ago.”
Men without a high school diploma saw earnings go from $31,900 in 1990 to $25,500 in 2013. Men with a high school diploma did only a little better, with a 13% decline in median earnings over the same span. Women did slightly better than men in the past two decades. Those without a high school diploma saw a 12% decline in median earnings, and those with a high school diploma or some college a 3% gain.
Why the decline?
The Hamilton Project study does find some data to support the commonly-held theories that there has been a decline in the number of jobs in manufacturing and other industries that once paid less-skilled workers good wages, as a result of technology and globalization.
And there have also been changes around worker pay such as less union power, a lower minimum wage when adjusted for inflation, and a culture in corporate America of cutting labor costs to the bone even when profits are soaring.
“One thing that’s always bothered me about the political debate is people want to say either its globalization and technology, or its institutions,” said Melissa S. Kearney, director of the Hamilton Project and a professor at the University of Maryland. “But of course it’s both.”