Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Wage Disparities within Job Groups Growing

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Wage Disparities within Job Groups Growing

Article excerpt

People who work in the same field and are of similar age and education are finding that their wages, once very close, now extend across a much wider range, new studies of U.S. Labor Department data show.

Such findings contribute a new explanation for the growing gap between the incomes of the wealthiest and poorest Americans, which is now the widest since World War II, even after adjusting for inflation.

The gap can no longer be explained simply by noting that the college-educated earn much more than those with only a high school degree, that blacks do not fare as well as whites or that men earn more than women.

Among the theories explaining the change is that the wage spread reflects a decline in the power of unions, which act to keep wages more uniform. Another is the stiff competition wrought by deregulation in some industries, which forced some struggling employers to impose lower wage scales than their more successful rivals.

Some economists also think the wage gap has grown as employers increasingly short of skilled labor bid up wages for the best workers, using criteria that go beyond education and job experience. Finally, some economists say that social mores that once kept wages within limits even on Wall Street eroded in the 1980s.

Although wage spreads are increasing among all workers, what is most striking about the trend is its appearance among men who hold full-time jobs, economists say. They constitute more than 50 percent of the labor force, and their wage scales had historically been the most uniform.

Results from the recent studies suggest to many economists that the increasing wage gap in this group is perhaps the chief reason for the growing number of wealthy and poor Americans.

``The college/high school thing is important and so are the other differences, but most of the action is among people of the same age and education,'' said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist, who is studying the wage-spread phenomenon. ``Inequality is going up in nearly every occupation.''

Ten years ago, for example, young lawyers of similar age and education who were seeking to specialize in pension law could expect to land jobs in New York that paid similar salaries. Today, wage surveys show the top salary is $110,000 and the bottom $42,000, a spread of $68,000.

Electrical engineers in their early 30s, holding jobs in Silicon Valley, in California, earned within $12,000 of each other in 1980. The spread has grown to $25,000, greatly outstripping the increase in inflation, with the high end now $65,000.

And until 13 years ago, mechanics at any of the nation's big airlines with the same seniority earned virtually the same wage. Today, a top-scale mechanic's hourly wage ranges from $16 at Pan Am to $21 at American Airlines. …

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