Abstract

Over the past quarter century, labor’s share of income in the United States has trended downward, reaching its lowest level in the postwar period after the Great Recession. A detailed examination of the magnitude, determinants, and implications of this decline delivers five conclusions. First, about a third of the decline in the published labor share appears to be an artifact of statistical procedures used to impute the labor income of the self-employed that underlies the headline measure. Second, movements in labor’s share are not solely a feature of recent U.S. history: The relative stability of the aggregate labor share prior to the 1980s in fact veiled substantial, though offsetting, movements in labor shares within industries. By contrast, the recent decline has been dominated by the trade and manufacturing sectors. Third, U.S. data provide limited support for neoclassical explanations based on the substitution of capital for (unskilled) labor to exploit technical change embodied in new capital goods. Fourth, prima facie evidence for institutional explanations based on the decline in unionization is inconclusive. Finally, our analysis identifies offshoring of the labor-intensive component of the U.S. supply chain as a leading potential explanation of the decline in the U.S. labor share over the past 25 years.

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-4465
Print ISSN
0007-2303
Pages
pp. 1-63
Launched on MUSE
2014-05-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.