Portraits of U.S. high-technology metros: income stratification of occupational groups from 1980-2000
Saenz, Tara Keniry
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Cities of the United States were indelibly marked in the 1990’s by the impacts of the booming technology industry and digital economy, which began developing in the 1970’s. The U.S. economy underwent significant growth during the 1980’s and 1990’s as the technology sector burgeoned, fueled largely by information technology and the Internet. Metropolitan areas with concentrations of technology sprang up throughout the U.S. led by the California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128, reaping enormous economic prosperity. Recent research reveals large gaps between the rich and poor in high-tech metros (Hicks 2003; Stolarick 2003). The present study evaluates income distribution inequality across various occupational groups in U.S. metros with a focus on high-tech centers. The aims of the present study were met by calculating a Theil Index using Decennial Census Data from 1980 and 2000 in order to track longitudinal changes in inequality and to determine the specific contributions of high-tech occupations to income distribution inequality in a selection of high-tech centers. Results of these analyses indicate that income distribution inequality in U.S. cities has increased since the emergence of the digital economy, from 1980 to 2000. Findings also indicate that income distribution inequality does not tend to be characteristic of U.S. technology regions, but that it increased to a greater magnitude in these regions than nontechnology metros from 1980-2000. Further, general patterns reflect a pronounced polarization, with the Professional and High-Tech groups on the positive end of the spectrum of income distribution inequality and the remaining occupational groups—Sales and Office; Service; Production, Transportation and Material Moving; and Construction, Extraction and Maintenance—on the negative. Findings of this research challenge the recent literature that detects high levels of income distribution inequality in high-tech metros, which sorts occupations based on Florida 2002’s conception of creative class occupations. This calls into question the use of this class scheme in studies of income. Results also indicate that labor markets in 2000 are bifurcated according to skill level and remuneration, suggesting that dual-labor market theory may be applicable to high-tech metros as well as global cities.