But there’s something deeper, too. The familiar bash brothers of globalization and technology (particularly information technology) have conspired to gut middle-class jobs by sending work abroad or replacing it with automation and software. A 2013 study by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson found that although the computerization of certain tasks hasn’t reduced employment, it has reduced the number of decent-paying, routine-heavy jobs. Cheaper jobs have replaced them, and overall pay has declined.
Your second question might be: Why have health-care wages been the exception to the rule? One answer is that health care is, generally speaking, the exception to many rules. Demand for medical services is dominated by the government (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, and the employer insurance tax break), which doesn’t face the same vertiginous up-and-downs as the rest of the economy. So as the Great Recession steamrolled many industries, health care, propped up by sturdy government spending, kept adding workers. What’s more, computerization and information technology have yet to work their magical price-cutting power in health care as they have in other industries, for a variety of reasons. Americans are spending four percent less on food away from home than in 2007; but we’re spending 42 percent more on health insurance. As prices have increased, so have wages for younger workers in the medical field. (Update: Some readers have made the smart suggestion that money which might have gone to higher salaries has instead gone to paying higher health insurance costs.)