Labor unrest

Kevin Lewis

July 19, 2017

The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market
David Deming
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming

The labor market increasingly rewards social skills. Between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. Math-intensive but less social jobs - including many STEM occupations - shrank by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. Employment and wage growth was particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both math skill and social skill. To understand these patterns, I develop a model of team production where workers “trade tasks” to exploit their comparative advantage. In the model, social skills reduce coordination costs, allowing workers to specialize and work together more efficiently. The model generates predictions about sorting and the relative returns to skill across occupations, which I investigate using data from the NLSY79 and the NLSY97. Using a comparable set of skill measures and covariates across survey waves, I find that the labor market return to social skills was much greater in the 2000s than in the mid 1980s and 1990s.

Basic Income in a Small Town: Understanding the Elusive Effects on Work
David Calnitsky & Jonathan Latner
Social Problems, August 2017, Pages 373-397

This paper examines the impact of a guaranteed annual income experiment from the 1970s called the Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment (Mincome). We examine Mincome’s “saturation” site located in Dauphin, Manitoba, where all town residents were eligible for payments. Would people work less if their basic needs were guaranteed outside the market? Never before or since the Dauphin experiment has a rich country tested a guaranteed annual income at the level of an entire town. A community-level experiment accounts for the fact that people make decisions in a social context, not in isolation. Using hitherto unanalyzed data we find an 11.3 percentage point reduction in labor market participation, and nearly 30 percent of that fall can be attributed to “community context” effects. Additionally, we show that withdrawals were driven disproportionately by young and single-headed households. Participants who provide qualitative explanations for work withdrawals typically cite care work, disability and illness, uneven employment opportunities, or educational investment.

The Unintended Consequences of Flexicurity: The Health Consequences of Flexible Employment
Keith Bender & Ioannis Theodossiou
Review of Income and Wealth, forthcoming

While atypical employment contracts offer flexibility in the labor market, these kinds of contracts are inherently insecure and may generate stress among affected workers. This study examines the impact of atypical forms of employment (specifically seasonal or temporary jobs or a fixed time contracts) on workers' health. Survival analysis shows that, other things equal, the longer percent of time spent in flexible employment contracts increases the odds of falling into ill health for a variety of health conditions. The results are robust to controlling for the endogeneity in the relationship.

Manufacturing Employment Losses and the Economic Performance of the Industrial Heartland
Mark Schweitzer
Federal Reserve Working Paper, June 2017

The industrial Midwest, sometimes referred to disparagingly as the “Rust Belt,” has long been recognized as a distinct economic region and an important contributor to the US economy. Prior research has emphasized the role that losses in the manufacturing sector have played in the plight of several Midwestern states and cities, particularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We identify a hypothetical industrial heartland region consisting of MSAs that have high concentrations of 1969 earnings in manufacturing relative to the US average and that are located within the geography often associated with the Rust Belt. For comparison purposes we also identify a set of manufacturing-intensive MSAs outside the region and a set of MSAs with low manufacturing concentrations (service-intensive MSAs). We then identify cross-sectional correlations in the economic performance of MSAs during and following losses in manufacturing employment and evaluate whether the industrial heartland region has a distinct response to those losses. We identify two major shocks to manufacturing employment: 1979 to 1983 and 2001 to 2010. While the second episode was slower to develop, the employment losses in manufacturing that were sustained during it are nearly as large as in the first episode. The size of manufacturing loss is reliably correlated across MSAs during and following these two manufacturing shocks with measures of economic performance including nonmanufacturing employment, unemployment, population, and per capita income levels. In addition, we find that manufacturing employment losses typically are associated with larger declines in economic performance in the MSAs of the industrial heartland than in other manufacturing-intensive MSAs or in service-intensive MSAs. Despite substantially lower shares of employment and earnings of manufacturing within the industrial heartland in 2001, the effect of the second manufacturing employment shock is substantial (particularly for real per capita income).

The Rise of Services, Deindustrialization, and the Length of Economic Recovery
Martha Olney & Aaron Pacitti
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

Economic recovery is longer in service-providing economies than in goods-producing economies. Services cannot be produced and inventoried ahead of demand; goods can. We are the first to document this macroeconomic repercussion of the sectoral shift away from the secondary sector toward the tertiary sector, that is, of deindustrialization and the rise of services. We distinguish between nontradable services and all other sectors, using U.S. state-level employment data for post-1960 recessions. Concerns over the endogeneity of services are addressed in two ways: by using 3-year pre-recession averages of sector shares, and separately by invoking instrumental variables. Our results are robust to alternative specifications. The increase in service production and deindustrialization in the United States over the last half-century lengthens the trough-to-peak employment recovery from recessions by about 40%.

Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle
Ekaterina Jardim et al.
NBER Working Paper, June 2017

This paper evaluates the wage, employment, and hours effects of the first and second phase-in of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, which raised the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016. Using a variety of methods to analyze employment in all sectors paying below a specified real hourly rate, we conclude that the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016. Evidence attributes more modest effects to the first wage increase. We estimate an effect of zero when analyzing employment in the restaurant industry at all wage levels, comparable to many prior studies.

Wage Shocks and the Technological Substitution of Low-Wage Jobs
Daniel Aaronson & Brian Phelan
Economic Journal, forthcoming

We extend the task-based empirical framework used in the job polarization literature to analyse the susceptibility of low-wage employment to technological substitution. We find that increases in the cost of low-wage labour, via minimum wage hikes, lead to relative employment declines at cognitively routine occupations but not manually-routine or non-routine low-wage occupations. This suggests that low-wage routine cognitive tasks are susceptible to technological substitution. While the short-run employment consequence of this reshuffling on individual workers appears to be economically small, due to concurrent employment growth in other low-wage jobs, workers previously employed in cognitively routine jobs experience relative wage losses.

The Effect of Minimum Wages on Employment: A Factor Model Approach
Evan Totty
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

This paper uses factor model methods to resolve issues in the minimum wage-employment debate. Factor model methods provide a more flexible way of addressing concerns related to unobserved heterogeneity that are robust to critiques from either side of the debate. The factor model estimators produce minimum wage-employment elasticity estimates that are much smaller than the traditional ordinary least squares (OLS) results and are not statistically different from zero. These results hold for many specifications and datasets from the minimum wage-employment literature. A simulation shows that unobserved common factors can explain the different estimates seen across methodologies in the literature.

Are Local Minimum Wages Absorbed by Price Increases? Estimates from Internet-Based Restaurant Menus
Sylvia Allegretto & Michael Reich
ILR Review, forthcoming

The authors analyze 884 Internet-based restaurant menus from inside and outside San Jose, California, which they collected before and after the city implemented a 25% minimum wage increase in 2013. Their findings suggest that nearly all of the cost increase was passed through to consumers, as prices rose 1.45% on average. Minimum wage price elasticities averaged 0.058 for all restaurants and ranged from 0.044 to 0.109, depending on the type of restaurant. The authors’ estimate of payroll cost increases net of turnover savings is consistent with these findings. Equally important, border effects for restaurants are smaller than is often conjectured. Price differences among restaurants that are one-half mile from either side of the policy border are not competed away, indicating that restaurant demand is spatially inelastic. These results imply that citywide minimum wage policies need not result in substantive negative employment effects nor shifts of economic activity to nearby areas.

The Effect of Potential Activations on the Employment of Military Reservists: Evidence from a Field Experiment
Theodore Figinski
ILR Review, August 2017, Pages 1037-1056

U.S. military reservists are primarily employed in the civilian labor market. During periods of military conflict, such as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government may call reservists to full-time military service, requiring reservists to leave their civilian jobs. Federal law requires employers to rehire reservists once their full-time military service ends and also prohibits employers from discriminating against reservists because of their military membership. This article uses a résumé study to examine how the labor market protections provided to reservists and the potential labor market absences affect the employment outcomes of reservists. The results suggest that current membership in the Reserves, as compared to previous membership, reduces the probability of receiving a request for a job interview by 10.7%.

Expanding Employment Discrimination Protections for Individuals with Disabilities: Evidence from California
Patrick Button
ILR Review, forthcoming

Effective 2001, California passed the Prudence Kay Poppink Act, which broadened California’s disability employment discrimination law to cover individuals with less-severe disabilities by lowering the burden of proof to establish a disability. Using both difference-in-differences and difference-in-difference-in-differences regression analyses and data from the Current Population Survey, the author estimates how this act affected the labor market outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The results suggest that the act significantly increased employment for individuals with disabilities, with the effect persisting at least partially up to six years later.

Is There a Startup Wage Premium? Evidence from MIT Graduates
Daniel Kim
MIT Working Paper, March 2017

While startups are the center of extensive policy discussion given their outsized role in job creation, it is not clear whether they create high quality jobs relative to incumbent firms. This paper investigates the wage differential between venture capital-backed startups and established firms, given that the two firm types compete for talent. Using data on MIT graduates, I find that non-founder employees at VC-backed startups earn 8%-13% higher wages than their counterparts at established firms. To account for unobserved heterogeneity across workers, I exploit the fact that many MIT graduates receive multiple job offers. I find that wage differentials are statistically insignificant from zero when individual fixed effects are included. This implies that much of the startup wage premium in the cross-section can be attributed to selection, and that VC-backed startups pay competitive wages for talent.

Estimating the relationship between labour market tightness, unemployment insurance benefits and union election activity
Robert Baumann et al.
Applied Economics Letters, forthcoming

Using detailed data from the US National Labor Relations Board, we find labour market tightness, defined as the ratio of job vacancies to the number of unemployed, has a positive relationship with the likelihood of voting in favour of union representation. Specifically, a 1 SD increase in labour market tightness increases Vote Share in favour and the likelihood of union certification by roughly 1.5% and 3%, respectively. We also find that length of unemployment insurance benefits has a positive relationship with Vote Share in favour. Taken together, these results suggest that workers are more comfortable engaging in pro-union election behaviours when exogenous conditions, like labour market tightness and unemployment insurance benefit duration, shift in a way that more favourably insulates them from unemployment and income risk.

The Puzzling Pattern of Multiple Job Holding across U.S. Labor Markets
Barry Hirsch, Muhammad Husain & John Winters
Southern Economic Journal, July 2017, Pages 26–51

Multiple job holding (MJH) rates differ substantially across U.S. regions, states, and metropolitan areas. Rates decrease markedly with respect to labor market size. These patterns have been largely overlooked, despite being relatively fixed over (at least) the past 20 years. This article explores explanations for these persistent differences. We account for roughly two-thirds of the mean absolute deviation in MJH across local labor markets (MSAs). The results suggest that variation in MJH across labor markets is driven by labor market differences in job opportunities and worker preferences. Most important in explaining variation in MJH are MSA industry and occupation structure, ancestry shares, commute times, and, to a lesser extent, labor market churn.

The predictive power of Google searches in forecasting US unemployment
Francesco D’Amuri & Juri Marcucci
International Journal of Forecasting, October–December 2017, Pages 801–816

We assess the performance of an index of Google job-search intensity as a leading indicator for predicting the monthly US unemployment rate. We carry out a deep out-of-sample forecasting comparison of models that adopt the Google Index, the more standard initial claims, or alternative indicators based on economic policy uncertainty and consumers’ and employers’ surveys. The Google-based models outperform most of the others, with their relative performances improving with the forecast horizon. Only models that use employers’ expectations on a longer sample do better at short horizons. Furthermore, quarterly predictions constructed using Google-based models provide forecasts that are more accurate than those from the Survey of Professional Forecasters, models based on labor force flows, or standard nonlinear models. Google-based models seem to predict particularly well at the turning point that takes place at the beginning of the Great Recession, while their relative predictive abilities stabilize afterwards.


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