economy” may overstate economic trends. He noted that many mid-level jobs are not disappearing—including jobs in technical support, crafts, health care support, and transportation—and will generate large numbers of new openings as the current job-holders retire. Holzer expressed concern that the popularity of the polarization metaphor is leading to a polarized education policy, focusing on college for all and standardized testing. While agreeing that he did not want to suggest that there are no mid-level jobs, Autor nevertheless argued that the current trend raises an important policy question about how to help people move from low-wage to high-wage positions if there are fewer jobs in the middle. He suggested that society would need to “find ways to ensure economic mobility is not further eroded” in the future.
Labor economist Larry Michel (Economic Policy Institute) asked whether his belief that “the jobs of the future are not going to be all that different than the jobs now” is correct. Sommers replied that some of the trends in the most recent BLS forecast to 2014 have been under way since the end of World War II. These trends include continued growth of industry sectors other than manufacturing and continued creation of new jobs due to technological change. Responding to Holzer’s concern that the barbell economy metaphor has been exaggerated, Sommers noted that the economy still has many mid-level jobs. She provided the example of the office and administrative support job cluster, which included nearly 24 million jobs in 2004 and is projected to generate large numbers of replacement openings over the following decade (see Table 2-1).
Reflecting on the session, Cappelli highlighted two points. First, the focus of the policy discussion has shifted from concern about how skills affect firm competitiveness to concerns about how skills affect individual workers’ careers and wages. Second, the adaptability of the labor market—as mentioned by Eric Wanner—makes it very difficult to forecast future skill demands. On the basis of these two observations, Cappelli offered a suggestion. He said that he often works with experts in decision science, who spend little time “fixating on point estimates, but instead focus on the robustness of the estimate or on alternative future scenarios” and suggested that these methods might be helpful to project future skill demands.