Report Reveals Long-Term Loss of Opportunity for Non-College Educated Workers in U.S. Cities

July 8, 2020

Leading labor economist David Autor authors report presented by the Aspen Institute Economic Strategy Group and the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, July 8, 2020
–Today the Economic Strategy Group, a program of the Aspen Institute, released a new report by David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, in collaboration with the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, which Autor co-chairs.

Autor presents evidence that employment and earnings opportunities for non-college workers (defined in his report as workers without a bachelor’s degree) in urban labor markets have substantially deteriorated over the past three decades. The fact that urban labor markets no longer reward non-college workers with an “urban wage premium” is an important and previously underappreciated trend. Additionally, these trends are likely to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis due to a sustained loss of demand in hospitality and business services sectors. Specifically, it highlights:

The brief highlights several key points:

  • The reversal of opportunity for non-college urban workers is the result of long-term changes in urban labor markets. Rising automation and international trade have eliminated many middle-skill occupations that were traditionally held by non-college educated workers, such as administrative support, clerical work, and urban manufacturing.
  • Non-college workers in US cities now perform substantially less specialized and less skill-intensive work than in earlier decades.
  • The occupational polarization that has reduced the prevalence of middle wage jobs among urban workers has been most pronounced among Hispanics; this polarization is less pronounced, but still substantial among Blacks; and substantially more moderate among whites.
  • Autor anticipates that the current COVID-19 crisis is likely to exacerbate the decline in employment and earnings opportunities for non-college urban workers by reducing demand in the urban hospitality sector (i.e., air travel, ground transportation, hotels, restaurants) and in urban business services (i.e., cleaning, security, maintenance, repair, and construction).


The Economic Strategy Group (ESG), a program of the Aspen Institute, is composed of a diverse, bipartisan group of distinguished leaders and thinkers with the goal of promoting evidence-based solutions to significant U.S. economic challenges. Co-chaired by Henry M. Paulson, Jr. and Erskine Bowles, the ESG fosters the exchange of economic policy ideas and seeks to clarify the lines of debate on emerging economic issues while promoting bipartisan relationship-building among current and future generations of policy leaders in Washington.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Aspen Institute is adapting to address the challenges of the pandemic. Learn more about some of the solutions we’re proposing, the actions we’re taking, and the changemakers we’re supporting.


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