Dense Cities Have Less to Offer Low-Skilled Workers Than They Once Did

A study from economist David Autor finds that the higher wages once offered workers without college degrees or special skills are mostly gone. Workers in cities often earn what they would in rural areas.

1 minute read

January 17, 2019, 9:00 AM PST

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


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City boosters have long touted dense urban cities as places of opportunity. A new study finds that for low-skilled workers that may no longer be the case. An analysis of wages through time shows that, for less educated workers, the gap between pay in rural and urban areas has shrunk dramatically. "Because of this, cities no longer offer low-skilled workers the economic advantages they once did, according to new analysis by the M.I.T. economist David Autor," Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui report for the New York Times.

Many policy makers and economists have mused that if Americans moved more they would be able to improve their incomes and have access to more opportunities. This study suggests that for many, that’s not the case, in part because of the decrease in manufacturing, the urban wage advantage is now only available for the professional class of Americans.

"Now, the urban jobs available to people with no college education — as servers, cleaners, security guards, home health aides — are basically the same kind as those available in smaller towns and rural communities," Badger and Bui write. Meanwhile, the cost of living in these denser communities are often much more expensive.

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