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candidate Elisa Giannone. Beginning in the 1980s, as computers made certain people more productive and valuable in the labor market and made other people obsolete, wealthy regions with educated workers began to do better and better. Between 1940 and 1980, wages in poorer U.S. areas grew faster than wages in richer places by 1.4 percent per year. But starting in the 1980s, wages in poorer places stopped catching up to those in richer ones, Giannone says.

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Dark, 33, lives in the increasingly metropolitan city of Indianapolis, where he runs a creative consultancy doing videos and marketing work for a variety of clients. Dark, who is a college graduate, works when he chooses, often from his downtown home or from the coffee shops and bars springing up around downtown Indianapolis. He loves to travel—he recently returned from Iceland—and goes out to meet friends almost every night of the week. The same night Ashley Gabbert was prepping for her night shift by dropping her 11-year-old daughter off with her mother, Dark was cooking a venison stew for a meat-and-bourbon potluck dinner thrown by a friend. “I’ve built my life around flexibility,” he told me.

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2016: A Year Defined by America’s Diverging Economies
America Is Still Making Things
In some ways, the lives of Gabbert and Dark represent the diverging fates of two parts of America in the past two decades. Half a century ago, economic opportunity and upward mobility were available to many white Americans, regardless of where they lived and what kind of education they had. They could graduate from high school and find a job at a local factory and make a good wage, or graduate from college and sit behind a desk and make a slightly better wage. About 90 percent of kids born in the 1940s earned more than their parents did, according to work by Stanford economist Raj Chetty. But beginning in the 1980s, the returns on a college education started growing, and more of the benefits of economic growth started accruing to only those with an education, as those without an education saw their opportunities shrink. People with a college degree or more now earn 50 percent of aggregate U.S. household income, up from 37 percent in 1991, while people with less than a high school degree now earn 5 percent, down from 12 percent in 1991, according to Census data. (1991 is the earliest year for which there is comparable data.)

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candidate Elisa Giannone. Beginning in the 1980s, as computers made certain people more productive and valuable in the labor market and made other people obsolete, wealthy regions with educated workers began to do better and better. Between 1940 and 1980, wages in poorer U.S. areas grew faster than wages in richer places by 1.4 percent per year. But starting in the 1980s, wages in poorer places stopped catching up to those in richer ones, Giannone says.

income map legend

candidate Elisa Giannone. Beginning in the 1980s, as computers made certain people more productive and valuable in the labor market and made other people obsolete, wealthy regions with educated workers began to do better and better. Between 1940 and 1980, wages in poorer U.S. areas grew faster than wages in richer places by 1.4 percent per year. But starting in the 1980s, wages in poorer places stopped catching up to those in richer ones, Giannone says.

income map legend

This divergence in fortunes for those with and without higher education has coincided with another divergence—that between America’s growing cities and its struggling rural regions. For a century leading up to 1980, poorer regions were catching up to richer regions of the country in terms of wages, as an oversupply of workers in richer regions drove wages down, while an undersupply in poorer regions drove wages up. But this “convergence,” as economists call it, petered out with the rise of computers, according to research by the University of Chicago doctoral candidate Elisa Giannone. Beginning in the 1980s, as computers made certain people more productive and valuable in the labor market and made other people obsolete, wealthy regions with educated workers began to do better and better. Between 1940 and 1980, wages in poorer U.S. areas grew faster than wages in richer places by 1.4 percent per year. But starting in the 1980s, wages in poorer places stopped catching up to those in richer ones, Giannone says.