Public Policy Brief No. 29 | February 1997

Institutional Failure and the American Worker

The Collapse of Low-skill Wages

David R. Howell argues that the collapse of low-skill wages in the United States cannot be explained by a skill mismatch resulting from a technology-driven decline in the demand for low-skill labor. He presents evidence refuting the prevailing belief that a substantial shift in demand away from low-skill work characterized the 1980s. Howell asserts that a more compelling explanation for the growing wage gap can be found in fundamental changes in the institutions, practices, and norms that determine labor market outcomes—a return to a confrontational attitude toward labor by management, a shift to a laissez-faire approach to regulatory and redistributive functions by government, and management’s adoption of low-road strategies to cut labor costs in response to competitive pressures.

Associated Program:
David R. Howell

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