The new economics of jobs is bad news for working-class Americans—and maybe for Trump

Many political observers still seem flummoxed by the fact that millions of working-class Americans voted for Donald Trump after supporting Barack Obama not once but twice. One important reason may lie in certain large-scale changes in America’s job market over the last decade. The growing role of a college degree in landing a job is well documented. Now, new household employment data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that Americans with college degrees can account for all of the net new jobs created over the last decade. In stark contrast, the number of Americans with high school degrees or less who are employed, in this ninth year of economic expansion, has fallen by 2,995,000.

We use the household employment survey here instead of the business establishment survey, because it tracks the education of everyone who gains or loses a job, month by month. In the latest survey covering December 2017, the number of college graduates with jobs jumped by 305,000—while the numbers of employed Americans with no high school degree fell by 132,000. High school graduates with jobs dropped by 38,000, and employees with some college but no degree declined by 45,000. That’s a window into what’s happened across the U.S. economy throughout this business cycle—and the fact that Republican control of the government hasn’t helped working-class Americans with jobs could create problems for them in 2018 and 2020.

The last decade from January 2008 to December 2017 covers every facet of the current business cycle, except its very end. The first five years from January 2008 to January 2013 included the recession and financial crisis followed by a modest recovery, and the second five years from January 2013 to December 2017 have seen a reasonably steady expansion. In a normal cycle from recession to recovery, economists expect to see substantial job losses followed by offsetting job gains. In the aggregate, that is just what happened in the first five years of this cycle: millions of jobs were lost from January 2008 to December 2010; but by January 2013, the number of employed Americans had recovered to nearly the same level as in January 2008.

But the composition of that workforce—who lost their jobs compared to who landed new jobs—changed in decisive ways. From January 2008 to January 2013, millions of people without college degrees lost jobs and never regained them, while all of the job gains went to the one-third of the labor force (as of January 2008) with at least a B.A. degree. (See the Table below.) So, while total employment in January 2013 was just 341,000 less than in January 2008, the number of Americans without a high school diploma who were employed fell by more than 1.6 million. The number of high school graduates with jobs fell by more than 2.8 million, and the number of working people with some college training but no BA degree fell by 227,000. Over those same five years, the number of college-educated Americans with jobs increased more than 4.3 million.

– Brookings

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