September 2008

The Causes and Consequences of Economic Restructuring: Evidence from the Early 21st Century

Andrew Figura and William Wascher


A number of industries underwent large and permanent reductions in employment growth at the beginning of this decade, a process we label as restructuring. We describe how restructuring occurred and what its consequences were for the economy. In particular, we find that restructuring stemmed largely from relative demand shocks (though technology shocks were important in some industries) and that elevated levels of permanent job destruction and permanent layoffs were distinguishing features of industries subject to restructuring. In addition, most workers displaced in restructuring industries relocated to other sectors. While this process of reallocation led to large increases in productivity (and a reduction in labor's share) in industries shedding workers, it also resulted in prolonged periods of unemployment for displaced workers. Moreover, relocating workers suffered sizable reductions in earnings, consistent with substantial losses in their specific human capital. Putting these pieces together, we estimate the cost of restructuring to have been between 1/2 and 1 percent of aggregate income per year.

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Keywords: Industrial restructuring, permanent job loss

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Last Update: October 19, 2020