“Wage Inequality: A Story of Policy Choices”

The September 2014 issue of New Labor Forum includes an article (paywalled) by Larry Mishel (President of the Economic Policy Institute), Heidi Shierholz (until recently an economist at EPI, now Chief Economist at the Department of Labor), and me offering our explanation for the rise in wage inequality since the end of the 1970s.

From the introduction:

The mainstream of the economics profession offers one over-riding explanation for the rise in inequality: workers who have the skills needed for new technologies have done well, while those lacking those skills have fallen farther and farther behind. …We take a different view. We believe that it is possible to explain the entire rise of economic inequality since the late 1970s as the outcome of an array of economic policies that had the easy-to-predict effect of widening the gap between the top 1 percent and the rest.

Over each of the last three decades, macroeconomic policy (fiscal, exchange rate, monetary policies), trade agreements, deregulation of the financial sector, the legal environment governing unionization, the minimum wage, industry deregulation (in airlines, trucking, inter-state busing, and elsewhere), the privatization of state and local government functions, and other policies have had different effects on different kinds of workers, helping some and hurting others. … Together, we argue, these policies can explain changes in wage trends for workers—both men and women—across the wage distribution.

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