Is the Labor Market Becoming More or Less Gradational?

Abstract

ity within the United States has led to much debate about its sources and causes. It is hardly surprising that such a sudden takeoff in inequality, one that reversed what had been a decades-long decline, would generate so much research on its causes. Important as the resulting causal agenda has been, it is perhaps equally important to examine the consequences of the takeoff, especially its consequences for the class structure. The purpose of this chapter is to ask whether the transition to a high-inequality regime in the United States has strengthened or weakened the class structure. How could we know so little about such consequences despite decades of research on the takeoff? The simple answer is that the research literature on earnings inequality has been dominated by economists and that economists have never regarded classes as an important prism through which inequality might be viewed. This answer, while perhaps nominally on the mark, is nonetheless silent on the more fundamental matter of why economists have shown so little interest in the sociological model of class. It might well be imagined that economists would find the sociological model of increasing interest as the old income paradigm is called into question and multidimensional representations of inequality gain support (e.g., Sen, Ch. 26; Bourguignon 2006). Indeed, insofar as social classes are understood as institutionalized packages of valued goods, they then become an omnibus inequality measure that is pregnant with information on precisely those noneconomic variables (e.g., working conditions, life chances, lifestyles) that a multidimensional approach emphasizes (see Grusky and Weeden 2007). The bivariate class-earnings distribution accordingly tells us whether earnings are becoming more or less tightly associated with the various inequality dimensions that social classes signal. If both earnings inequality and the earnings-class association are increasing, it means that the rich are not just growing ever richer, but they are also more likely to be advantaged on other inequality dimensions. Obversely, it means that the poor are not just growing ever poorer, but they are also more likely to be disadvantaged on other inequality dimensions. These results would imply that a stark winner-take-all form of inequality is emerging. It follows that economists, at least those with multidimensionalist sympathies, should care about the class-earnings distribution and whether it reveals a form of inequality more problematic than univariate analyses of earnings alone can reveal. For sociologists, there is likewise much interest in assessing whether the inequality Is the Labor Market Becoming More or Less Gradational? – 249

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Weeden2012IsTL, title={Is the Labor Market Becoming More or Less Gradational?}, author={Kim A. Weeden and Young-Mi Kim and Matthew Di Carlo and David Grusky}, year={2012} }