Working in the New Century: 'It's Not Like the Old Days'. By Brad Broberg.

"Joe," a 1994 UW graduate, isn't complaining. He has a steady job in his chosen field—finance. His wife is entering the health care industry. Their future looks bright.

Yet when Joe considers the trends spotlighted in Divergent Paths—especially growing job instability—he nods his head.

"One thing they taught us in business school was that the work world is different and to get ahead, instead of being promoted from within, you have to jump between jobs," he says.

Divergent Paths examines the disparate wage growth of two cohorts of men—one that entered the workforce before economic restructuring and prospered; another that entered afterward and lost ground. Among other things, the authors discovered that the second group changed jobs more frequently. At the same time, they found that the rewards for changing jobs early in a person's career—a traditional path to wage gains—were shrinking.

the growth of women in the workforce creating more double-income families is what kept household incomes steady despite the declining wage growth among men.

Although Joe is too young to be represented by either cohort, his career so far mirrors the second group's experience with job instability. A lifelong Seattle resident, Joe had anticipated staying in one place long enough to climb a couple of rungs before moving on. Instead, he has held three jobs since graduating from the UW eight years ago. He left his first job after his employer changed his duties. He was laid off from his second job. He's now on his third job—in real estate. To protect his career path, Joe asked that we not use his real name.

Joe echoes another point made by Sociology Professor Martina Morris and the other authors of Divergent Paths—that wage growth has been stymied by the splintering of internal career ladders. In the past, people assumed that when they joined a company, they would find opportunities to rise from within. Now, companies seem to more often look outside, says Joe. "Basically, there's less corporate loyalty to the employees," he says. "As a result, employees are less loyal to the company they work for."

Compared to the men in the second cohort, Joe has several factors working in his favor. First, his field—financial services/real estate/insurance—was the lone employment category to post wage gains during the periods studied. Second, by the time he entered the workforce, wage growth was on the uptick again. Third, his wife is about to launch a career in health care.

In large measure, the growth of women in the workforce—creating more double-income families—is what kept household incomes steady despite the declining wage growth among men, say the authors of Divergent Paths.

That's what his friends are experiencing, says Joe. "They're doing fine, but it's not like the old days when you could have one working spouse and buy a house," he says. All in all, says Joe, what people are losing is time. "It seems like people are working more and more and have less to show for it at the end of the day."—Brad Broberg


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