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What's that sound? Middle-skill jobs evaporating upstate

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

 A new reportfrom the New York Federal Reserve shows that advances in technology and globalization mean job opportunities are growing at both ends of the skill spectrum, but not in the middle.

Jobs in ‘high skill’ sectors like engineering and medicine, and also in ‘low skill’ sectors like childcare and construction, have grown over the past 30 years the study says. But opportunities in sectors like manufacturing, considered ‘middle skill sectors’ have declined.

Assistant Vice President of the Federal Reserve, Richard Deitzsays the trend in upstate New York has differed from that of the nation.

“The number of jobs in the middle has actually been declining a little bit more rapidly here than nationally and a part of that, especially in the Rochester area, is because the manufacturing sector has been hit so hard in recent decades and that has displaced a lot of what we think of traditionally as middle skilled workers,”

Deitz says.

Although the manufacturing sector has shrunk over the past 30 years, Deitz says there are still jobs available for workers.

However, he says these jobs now require more skill than they used to and workers need to rethink how much training they need to be a part of this field.

"What we're showing is that there's an increase in skill requirement, an increase in skill content for all jobs, including those in the manufacturing sector. So it's becoming more and more important for workers to get more and more skills over time.”

The study shows stark wage inequality in the U.S has also risen in the past three decades and this has resulted in an unequal economic environment.

“Job polarization has been a key contributor to rising inequality in the United States… but this increase in wage inequality has not been uniform across regions.”

Wage growth in upstate New York has strayed from the national trend, showing weaker increases for high skilled jobs than elsewhere.

However, there has been a slightly higher increase in wages for those remaining in the  middle and low skill sectors. The result is that upstate New York fares better than downstate on wage equality between the highest and lowest paid workers.

Deitz says a high school diploma is no longer enough for someone to join the workforce, and there needs to be a focus on extra training in differing areas.

“Our findings show that it is more important than ever before for workers to really think carefully about the skills they are going to acquire and use in the workforce. Growing opportunities and growing wages tend to require higher skills.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail