by Adam Ozimek
This excerpt was originally published as a guest post for the Noahpinion blog on April 28th, 2022. Read the complete post here.
The debate over remote work is evolving. We have gone from arguing about whether a significant level of remote working will be a permanent feature of the labor market to a greater focus on what the implications of that will be. Yet throughout this 2+ year debate, I think we have been consistently too pessimistic.
There are two reasons for more optimism. First, the thinking about who remote work is “leaving behind.” is far too narrow. Second, remote work opens up new frontiers for innovation and improved economic geography, and should spur bigger thinking by policymakers, pundits, and businesses, and more.
Before I begin making the case for why we should be more optimistic about remote work, we must first dig into what exactly it seems that remote work is doing so far.
Remote work and inequality
Let’s start first with who remote work is directly benefiting, and who it is directly leaving behind. It is clear that not everyone can work remotely, and that working remotely is more common among the higher educated. Over the first year of the pandemic, 50 percent of those with a graduate degree were mostly working from home compared to only 10 percent of those with less with a high school degree. The education bias of remote work is consistent with pre-pandemic remote work patterns, and even which jobs can be done remotely in theory based on occupational characteristics.
In short, those with less education have less access to remote work jobs. The ability to work remotely is valued highly by some, with more than half of workers both saying that they place monetary value on it and also threatening to quit if forced back in the office. For those who value this way of working, working remotely represents a new direct benefit to higher skilled workers. Of course, for others who prefer to be in the office but are in an occupation where being fully remote proves optimal for firms, this will be a cost. But as a first approximation, I think this aspect of remote work does by itself increase inequality of outcomes.
To continue reading, view the original publication here.