Why lower skilled workers don’t feel aspiration is worth it anymore, in one chart

by Ryan Streeter on December 10, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I found this chart a good summary of challenges to upward mobility and what we often refer to as “stagnation.”

The story of American success has long been based on the idea that as productivity rises, so do the earnings and quality of life of all workers. That’s because it was true – up through the 1980s. For professional, skilled, and managerial workers (who keep the the light blue line moving in sync with the red line post-1980), that continued to be the case up through the 1990s. But for workers with lower skills (dark blue line), the divergence began happening dramatically a generation ago.

For awhile, we continued to believe that productivity gains were good for everyone. But as these lines show, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time.

One caveat is that this chart is from EPI in this National Journal article by Jonathan Rauch. I don’t know which data underlie the chart. But it seems to be in keeping with plenty of other studies showing the divergence between productivity and the wages of lower-skilled workers.