Labor Markets

  • Michael Hout
  • Gregory Acs
  • David Card
  • Jesse Rothstein

Leaders: Gregory Acs, David Card, Michael Hout, Jesse Rothstein

The labor market was of course hit very heavily by the Great Recession, as evidenced by (a) the slow recovery of the unemployment rate, (b) and the even slower recovery of the long-term unemployment rate and the prime-age employment ratio (defined as the ratio of employed 25-54 year-olds to the population of that same age). This “jobs problem,” which is especially prominent among low-skill workers, has led to a sharp rise in the number of poor households without any working adults. It also underlies, in part, the sharp increase in the number of disability insurance claims and awards, which in turn has further reduced the supply of labor among low-skilled individuals.

If the first type of “jobs problem” is that there still are not enough of them, the second is that the jobs that are available do not always provide the requisite hours, wages, or security that are needed for a sure pathway out of poverty. As a result, low-skill individuals are not just working less but, even when they are working, there is no guarantee that their jobs will lift them and their families out of poverty. The Labor Markets RG is tasked with conducting research on these and related problems and exploiting administrative and other data to assess possible policy responses to them. We list below a few examples of the work being carried out in this group.

Long-run effects of work incentives: As nonworking poverty increases, the U.S. might well want to turn to new types of work incentive programs. Have these programs worked elsewhere?

Minimum wages and poverty: Throughout the west coast, there are a host of minimum wage “experiments” underway, experiments that have the potential to reset the low-wage labor market in quite fundamental ways. How are these experiments playing out?

Labor Markets - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty? Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow

Did Welfare Reform Increase Employment and Reduce Poverty?

Author: Robert A. Moffitt , Stephanie Garlow
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 01/2018

For 60 years, AFDC endured as the country’s best-known cash assistance program for the poor, until Congress replaced it in 1997 with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In a dramatic departure, the new welfare law introduced time limits and work requirements with the goals of encouraging work and discouraging “dependency.” Were those goals realized? There is of course a swirl of opinions on this question. In this article, we review the high-quality research on the law’s effects on work and poverty, with the simple objective of examining whether welfare reform succeeded in reducing dependence on welfare and increasing self-sufficiency.

Custodial Parole Sanctions and Earnings after Release from Prison David J. Harding, Jonah A Siegel, Jeffrey D. Morenoff

Custodial Parole Sanctions and Earnings after Release from Prison

Author: David J. Harding, Jonah A Siegel, Jeffrey D. Morenoff
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 12/2017

Although the labor market consequences of incarceration in prison have been central to the literature on mass incarceration, punishment, and inequality, other components of the growing criminal justice system have received less attention from sociologists. In particular, the rise of mass incarceration was accompanied by an even larger increase in community supervision. In this paper, we examine the labor market effects of one frequently experienced aspect of post-prison parole, short-term custody for parole violations. Although such sanctions are viewed as an alternative to returning parole violators to prison, they have the potential to affect labor market outcomes in ways similar to imprisonment, including both adverse and positive effects on earnings. We estimate that parolees lost approximately 37 percent of their earnings in quarters during which they were in short-term custody. Although their earnings tended to increase in the quarter immediately following short-term custody—consistent with the stated intentions of such sanctions—parolees experienced further earnings loss over the longer term after such sanctions. In the third quarter following a short-term custody sanction, earnings are lowered by about 13 percent. These associations are larger for those who were employed in the formal labor market before their initial incarceration.

Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation Alexander M. Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen

Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation

Author: Alexander M. Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen
Publisher: NBER
Date: 11/2017

We characterize the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in America by using de-identified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records. We establish three sets of results. First, children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender. Differences in innate ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain relatively little of these gaps. Second, exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children's propensities to become inventors. Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly the same technology class. These exposure effects are gender-specific: girls are more likely to become inventors in a particular technology class if they grow up in an area with more female inventors in that technology class. Third, the financial returns to inventions are extremely skewed and highly correlated with their scientific impact, as measured by citations. Consistent with the importance of exposure effects and contrary to standard models of career selection, women and disadvantaged youth are as under-represented among high-impact inventors as they are among inventors as a whole. We develop a simple model of inventors' careers that matches these empirical results. The model implies that increasing exposure to innovation in childhood may have larger impacts on innovation than increasing the financial incentives to innovate, for instance by cutting tax rates. In particular, there are many “lost Einsteins” — individuals who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to innovation.

Payroll Taxes, Firm Behavior, and Rent Sharing: Evidence from a Young Workers’ Tax Cut in Sweden Emmanuel Saez, Benjamin Schoefer, David Seim

Payroll Taxes, Firm Behavior, and Rent Sharing: Evidence from a Young Workers’ Tax Cut in Sweden

Author: Emmanuel Saez, Benjamin Schoefer, David Seim
Publisher: NBER
Date: 10/2017

This paper uses administrative data to analyze a large and long-lasting employer payroll tax rate cut from 31% down to 15% for young workers (aged 26 or less) in Sweden. We find a zero effect on net-of-tax wages of young treated workers relative to slightly older untreated workers, even in the medium run (after six years). Simple graphical cohort analysis shows compelling positive effects on the employment rate of the treated young workers, of about 2-3 percentage points, which arise primarily from fewer separations (rather than more hiring). These employment effects are larger in places with initially higher youth unemployment rates. We also analyze the firm-level effects of the tax cut. We sort firms by the size of the tax windfall and trace out graphically the time series of firms' outcomes. We proxy a firm's windfall with its share of treated young workers just before the reform. First, heavily treated firms expand after the reform: employment, capital, sales, value added, and profits all increase. These effects appear stronger in credit-constrained firms, consistent with liquidity effects. Second, heavily treated firms increase the wages of all their workers – young as well as old – collectively, perhaps through rent sharing. Wages of low paid workers rise more in percentage terms. Rather than canonical market-level adjustment, we uncover a crucial role of firm-level mechanisms in the transmission of payroll tax cuts.

Scraping by: Income and Program Participation After the Loss of Extended Unemployment Benefits Jesse Rothstein, Robert G. Valletta

Scraping by: Income and Program Participation After the Loss of Extended Unemployment Benefits

Author: Jesse Rothstein, Robert G. Valletta
Publisher: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management
Date: 08/2017

Many Unemployment Insurance (UI) recipients do not find new jobs before exhausting their benefits, even when benefits are extended during recessions. Using Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) panel data covering the 2001 and 2007 to 2009 recessions and their aftermaths, we identify individuals whose jobless spells outlasted their UI benefits (exhaustees) and examine household income, program participation, and health-related outcomes during the six months following UI exhaustion. For the average exhaustee, the loss of UI benefits is only slightly offset by increased participation in other safety net programs (e.g., food stamps), and family poverty rates rise substantially. Self-reported disability also rises following UI exhaustion. These patterns do not vary dramatically across household demographic groups, broad income level prior to job loss, or the two business cycles. The results highlight the unique, important role of UI in the U.S. social safety net.

labor markets - CPI Affiliates

David Card's picture David Card Labor Markets Research Group Leader, Class of 1950 Professor of Economics; Director of the Labor Studies Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research; Director, Center for Labor Economics (CLE); Director, Econometrics Laboratory (EML)
University of California, Berkeley
Gregory Acs's picture Gregory Acs Labor Markets Research Group Leader, Director of Income and Benefits Policy Center
The Urban Institute
Jesse Rothstein's picture Jesse Rothstein Labor Markets Research Group Leader; Professor of Public Policy and Economics; Director of Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE); Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research; Co-Director, California Policy Lab
University of California, Berkeley
Michael Hout's picture Michael Hout Labor Markets Research Group Leader, Professor of Sociology
New York University
Cecilia Elena Rouse's picture Cecilia Elena Rouse Dean, Woodrow Wilson School, Lawrence and Shirley Katzman and Lewis and Anna Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education
Princeton University


Labor Markets - Other Research

Title Author Media
Dinner Table Human Capital and Entrepreneurship Hans K. Hvide, Paul Oyer

Dinner Table Human Capital and Entrepreneurship

Author: Hans K. Hvide, Paul Oyer
Publisher: NBER
Date: 01/2018

We document three new facts about entrepreneurship. First, a majority of male entrepreneurs start a firm in the same or a closely related industry as their fathers’ industry of employment. Second, this tendency is correlated with intelligence: higher-IQ entrepreneurs are less likely to follow their fathers. Third, an entrepreneur that starts a firm in the same 5-digit industry as where his father was employed tends to outperform entrepreneurs in the same industry whose fathers did not work in that industry. We consider various explanations for these facts and conclude that “dinner table human capital”, where children obtain industry knowledge through their parents, is an important factor behind what type of firm is started and how well it performs.

Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Work Daron Acemoglu, Pascual Restrepo

Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Work

Author: Daron Acemoglu, Pascual Restrepo
Publisher: NBER
Date: 01/2018

We summarize a framework for the study of the implications of automation and AI on the demand for labor, wages, and employment. Our task-based framework emphasizes the displacement effect that automation creates as machines and AI replace labor in tasks that it used to perform. This displacement effect tends to reduce the demand for labor and wages. But it is counteracted by a productivity effect, resulting from the cost savings generated by automation, which increase the demand for labor in non-automated tasks. The productivity effect is complemented by additional capital accumulation and the deepening of automation (improvements of existing machinery), both of which further increase the demand for labor. These countervailing effects are incomplete. Even when they are strong, automation in- creases output per worker more than wages and reduce the share of labor in national income. The more powerful countervailing force against automation is the creation of new labor-intensive tasks, which reinstates labor in new activities and tends to increase the labor share to counterbalance the impact of automation. Our framework also highlights the constraints and imperfections that slow down the adjustment of the economy and the labor market to automation and weaken the resulting productivity gains from this transformation: a mismatch between the skill requirements of new technologies, and the possibility that automation is being introduced at an excessive rate, possibly at the expense of other productivity-enhancing technologies.

The Long-Run Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Women’s Earnings David Neumark, Peter Shirley

The Long-Run Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Women’s Earnings

Author: David Neumark, Peter Shirley
Publisher: NBER
Date: 12/2017

We use longitudinal data on marriage and children from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to characterize women’s exposure to the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) during their first two decades of adulthood. We then use measures of this exposure to estimate the long-run effects of the EITC on women’s earnings as mature adults. We find some evidence indicating that exposure to a more generous EITC when women were unmarried and had young (pre-school) children leads to higher earnings and hours, and perhaps wages, in the longer run. We also find some evidence that exposure to a more generous EITC when women had young children but were married leads to lower earnings and hours in the longer run. These longer-run effects are to some extent consistent with what we would expect if the short-run effects of the EITC on employment that are documented in other work, and predicted by theory, are reflected in effects of the EITC on cumulative labor market experience (and other consequences of labor market attachment) that influence earnings.


Wages and Employment: The Canonical Model Revisited Audra Bowlus, Eda Bozkurt, Lance Lochner, Chris Robinson

Wages and Employment: The Canonical Model Revisited

Author: Audra Bowlus, Eda Bozkurt, Lance Lochner, Chris Robinson
Publisher: NBER
Date: 11/2017

The basic canonical model fails to predict the aggregate college premium outside of the original sample period (1963-1987) or to account for the observed deviations in college premia for younger vs. older workers. This paper documents that these failings are due to mis-measurement of the relevant prices and quantities when using composition adjustment methods to construct relative skill prices and supplies, which ignore cohort effects that are particularly important in the 1980s and 1990s. Re-estimating the model with prices and quantities that incorporate cohort effects produces a good fit for the out of sample prediction and explains the observed deviation in the college premium for younger vs. older workers even with perfect substitutability across age. Moreover, the estimated elasticity of substitution between high and low skill is higher and there is a much smaller role for skill-biased technical change in explaining the path of the college wage premium. The elasticity of substitution is also an important parameter for the broader literature on education and wages, especially in assessing general equilibrium responses to government policies. In the case of a tuition subsidy, price responses can undo most of the direct (partial equilibrium) effect of the subsidy on enrolment, so that general equilibrium enrolment responses are substantially weaker. The higher elasticity estimated in this paper, produces much weaker general equilibrium relative price changes and stronger enrolment effects.

U.S. Job Flows and the China Shock Brian J. Asquith, Sanjana Goswami, David Neumark, Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez

U.S. Job Flows and the China Shock

Author: Brian J. Asquith, Sanjana Goswami, David Neumark, Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez
Publisher: NBER
Date: 11/2017

International trade exposure affects job creation and destruction along the intensive margin (job flows due to expansions and contractions of firms' employment) as well as along the extensive margin (job flows due to births and deaths of firms). This paper uses 1992-2011 employment data from the {universe} of U.S. establishments to construct job flows at both the industry and commuting-zone levels, and then estimates the impact of the `China shock' on each job-flow type. The China shock is accounted for by either the increase in Chinese import penetration in the U.S., or by the U.S. policy change that granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to China. We find that the China shock affects U.S. employment mainly through deaths of establishments. At the commuting-zone level, we find evidence of large job reallocation from the Chinese-competition exposed sector to the nonexposed sector, and establish that the gross employment effects of the China shock are fundamentally different from those of a more general adverse shock affecting the U.S. demand for domestic labor.