What’s your name? What do you do? Where do you work? These are the top three questions I am asked or that I hear at events and gatherings, even the ones that aren’t designated as networking events. I wasn’t around for the days when everyone attending events was gainfully employed (not even sure that was ever a reality, but some folks pain it that way), so I’m a bit weary of asking about people’s jobs for fear that they don’t have one. (And I don’t want to seem like I’m more interested in their work than who they are, but that’s another post.) But, I notice that there are always a good number of people who “do” one thing and work at a job that is completely unrelated. And, increasingly, there are a good number of freelancers and entrepreneurs. It seems that this is how many people are dealing with what economists are calling “labor polarization.” Here’s what NPR had to say about the “hollowing out”:

Demand remains for people with complex skills, like software engineering or the ability to read X-rays. There is also demand for people to take jobs that require less skill, like cleaning and waiting tables. It’s the jobs in the middle that are being squeezed – sales, administration, assembly positions, for example.

Economists have a term for this phenomenon: labor polarization.

“What’s happening is we’re getting jobs at both ends of the spectrum,” says Howard Rosen, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The phenomenon goes back a couple decades, but Rosen says it has become much more visible in recent years. Companies accelerated the rate they laid off workers in those middle-skill jobs. Since then, in the recovery, firms haven’t been adding those jobs back.

“We have two things going on: We have more people looking for jobs than we have jobs,” Rosen says. “And also, there’s a shift in the composition of those jobs. So many of those people looking for jobs are taking jobs at lower wages.”

How has labor polarization impacted you? How have you worked around it?

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