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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Wage Inequality and the Liberalization of Industrial Relations in the United States


In this brief, I review the impact of wage inequality on total income inequality and how the liberalizing reform of industrial relations is an important driver of economic inequality in the United States. The purpose of the brief is to renew the discussion on how the nature of work explains the rise of income inequality in the United States. At the center of this discussion is the role of occupational polarization in exacerbating income inequality amongst workers. Despite a growing interest in the proliferation of "good" and "bad" jobs, decision-makers are less concerned with developing labor policies aimed at mitigating wage differences within and between sectors. Accordingly, I suggest contemporary labor movements and progressive policy-makers need to advocate for alternative reform measures in reshaping the industrial relations system in the United States. The goal of these alternative reform measures is to mitigate wage inequality through building strategic partnerships between organized labor, employers, and state agencies in key economic sectors and establishing general national frameworks for negotiating collective agreements.

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