Was the "Great U-Turn" an Artifact of the Structural Transformation of the U.S. Labor Force?

Ritch Milby, U.S. Census Bureau

The deindustrialization and restructuring trends of the 1970s and '80s prompted debates about a "great U-turn" in earnings and an increase in inequality. Concurrent with those changes was a large influx of women into the full-time, year-round labor force. The deindustrialization and feminization trends had the potential to radically alter the earnings composition of the labor force because (1) many of the high-paying blue-collar jobs in manufacturing lost during the 1970s and '80s were predominantly held by men, (2) some of the service-oriented jobs gained during that time period paid well, although most did not, (3) the deindustrialization/expansion of services trend intersected significantly with the feminization of the labor force because women swelled the ranks of the service sectors. A closer examination of those concurrent changes has the potential to alter the "great U-turn" debate because the U-turn was most evident only when male and female earnings are combined.

Presented in Session 122: Wage and Equality: Gender and Structural Changes