Making It Work

Kevin Lewis

June 05, 2023

Benign Effects of Automation: New Evidence from Patent Texts
Katja Mann & Lukas Püttmann
Review of Economics and Statistics, May 2023, Pages 562-579 


We provide a new measure of automation based on patents and study its employment effects. Classifying all U.S. patents granted between 1976 and 2014 as automation or nonautomation patents, we document a strong rise in the number and share of automation patents. We link patents to their industries of use and to commuting zones. To estimate the effect of automation, we use an instrumental variables strategy that relies on innovations developed independently from U.S. labor market trends. We find that automation technology has a positive effect on employment in local labor markets, driven by job growth in the service sector.

Effects of the Minimum Wage on the Nonprofit Sector
Jonathan Meer & Hedieh Tajali
NBER Working Paper, May 2023 


The nonprofit sector's ability to absorb increases in labor costs differs from the private sector in a number of ways. We analyze how nonprofits are affected by changes in the minimum wage utilizing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Internal Revenue Service, linked to state minimum wages. We examine changes in reported employment and volunteering, as well as other financial statements such as revenues and expenses. The results from both datasets show a negative impact on employment for states with large statutory minimum wage increases. We observe some evidence for a reduction in the number of nonprofit establishments, fundraising expenses, and revenues from contributions. 

Pro-market institutions and labor market outcomes: A panel-data analysis of U.S. metropolitan areas
Imran Arif & John Dawson
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming 


We expand previous U.S. state-level research on the relationship between pro-market institutions and labor market outcomes by examining this relationship at the U.S. metropolitan-area level. Using panel data for 1992-2012 in a fixed-effects model, we investigate the effect of pro-market institutions on the unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, employment-population ratio, and employment growth across 366 U.S. metropolitan areas. The results indicate that pro-market institutions are associated with a lower unemployment rate, higher employment-population ratio, and faster employment growth. These results suggest that local-area policies are important for achieving favorable labor market conditions at the local level.

Minimum Wage Effects Within Census Based Statistical Areas: A Matched Pair Cross-Border Analysis
Garrett Taylor & James West
NBER Working Paper, April 2023 


Using monthly data from major U.S. metropolitan areas that span state borders, we estimate the elasticity of employment with respect to the minimum wage using a difference-in-differences design with continuous treatment in two-digit industries of 71 (Arts, Entertainment and Recreation) and 72 (Accommodation and Food Services). In specifications that control for differences in state sales, personal and corporate income tax rates, we find negative average causal response on the treated (ACRT) in six-digit industries where we expect large numbers of young, entry-level employees, but positive correlations in other industries. Our results illustrate important heterogeneities in minimum wage effects in urban versus rural areas.

Minimum Wage Hikes and Technology Adoption: Evidence from U.S. Establishments
Xin Dai & Yue Qiu
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, forthcoming 


This paper studies the effects of state minimum wage increase on information technology (IT) adoption at the establishment level in the United States. Our results show that treatment establishments on average allocate between $10,328 and $66,808 more per year to their IT budgets during the first 3 years after experiencing significant state minimum wage increases. Additional evidence shows that state minimum wage increases on average lead to an economically small decrease in employment. The estimated employment effect is larger for establishments that have more incentives to automate labor. Our results suggest that establishments adopt technology to countervail increased labor costs.

International Diversification, Reallocation, and the Labor Share
Joel David, Romain Rancière & David Zeke
NBER Working Paper, April 2023 


How does growing international financial diversification affect firm-level and aggregate labor shares? We study this question using a novel framework of firm labor choice in the face of aggregate risk. The theory implies a cross-section of labor risk premia and labor shares that appear as markups in firm-level data. International risk sharing leads to a reallocation of labor towards riskier/low labor share firms alongside a rise in within-firm labor shares, matching key micro-level facts. We use cross-country firm-level data to document a number of empirical patterns consistent with the theory, namely: (i) riskier firms have lower labor shares and (ii) international financial diversification is associated with a reallocation towards risky/low labor share firms. Our estimates suggest the reallocation effect has dominated the within effect in recent decades; on net, increased financial integration has reduced the corporate labor share in the US by about 2.5 percentage points, roughly one-third of the total decline since the 1970s.

Protect or Prevent? Non-Compete Agreements and Innovation
Emma Rockall & Kate Reinmuth
Stanford Working Paper, May 2023 


A large proportion of the US workforce is covered by non-compete agreements (NCAs), but recently their use has become one of intense policy debate, with the FTC recently proposing to ban them. In this paper, we examine what effect such a policy change might be expected to have on innovation, and what the optimal policy would be. We consider four main channels that make the impact of NCAs on innovation ex-ante theoretically ambiguous: incumbent innovation incentives, entry, external spillovers, and internal spillovers. Our work suggests that at their current levels, NCAs have a significant negative impact on innovation, in contrast to what is often assumed in policy discussions. The impact is not only strongly statistically significant but also economically significant -- for the mean observed change in state-level enforcement in our sample, patenting would be expected to move in the opposite direction by 11.8%. Moreover, this effect does not appear to simply be a story of NCAs restricting entry, with the fall in innovation almost exclusively being driven by incumbents. This suggests a potentially central role for labour markets and employee networks as a source of innovation spillovers. Therefore, we develop a GE model with endogenous innovation, search and matching frictions, and heterogeneous firms, allowing us to study optimal policy.

Are Business Applications Early Economic Indicators?
Jose Asturias et al.
AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2023, Pages 151-155 


Are business applications early indicators of economic activity? Our analysis indicates that monthly year-over-year growth in applications for likely employer businesses significantly leads growth in total nonfarm employment and has a positive correlation with it. In addition, growth in applications for likely employers leads growth in almost all other monthly Principal Federal Economic Indicators considered. These findings are robust to the inclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic period. Business applications for likely employers appear to be a strong leading indicator of aggregate economic activity.

Specialists or Generalists? Cross-Industry Mobility and Wages
Justine Hervé
Labour Economics, forthcoming


This paper quantifies the association between industrial specialization at the occupation level and job mobility and earnings for low and middle-wage American workers. I propose the concept of industry specificity to capture the degree of industrial specialization of a workers occupation. I measure industry specificity using an index of industrial concentration of employment (CEI) defined at the occupation-state-year level. Linking this index to individual-level panel data on wages and job transitions, I show that CEI is negatively associated with workers wages: moving from the first quartile to the third quartile of industry specificity decreases wages by 13 percent. I next examine the mechanisms that explain these findings. I first find that CEI is negatively associated with cross-industry and cross-occupation mobility, that is, workers employed in industry-specific occupations change industry and occupation less frequently than workers in less specific occupations. In addition, I show that occupation-level factors such as skill uniqueness and automatability increase industry specificity; but they cannot entirely explain the negative effect of CEI on wages. Finally, in line with the main results, I provide suggestive evidence that workers in industry-specific occupations are more vulnerable to industry-wide wage shocks compared to their generalist counterparts.

The Labor Market Effects of Occupational Licensing in the Public Sector
Morris Kleiner & Wenchen Wang
NBER Working Paper, May 2023


In the U.S., occupational licensing is more prevalent in the public sector than in the private sector, but the influence of occupational regulation for public sector workers has not been analyzed in detail. Our study initially examines the probability of a licensed worker selecting into the public sector. Using the probability as a control for these individuals' risk aversion, we next examine how licensing impacts key labor market outcomes, such as wages, hours worked, and employment in the public sector. Our results show that having an occupational license increases the likelihood of working in the public sector. After adjusting for the selection bias of choosing into the public sector, we find that being in a licensed occupation in the public sector raises wages by about 6% and increases hours worked, but reduces employment, even when controlling for other labor market institutions that also are more prevalent in the public sector such as unionization. Overall, our estimates suggest that the social welfare effects of licensing in the public sector are like those for the whole sample, and they generally result in a welfare loss in the public sector.

The Dual U.S. Labor Market Uncovered
Hie Joo Ahn, Bart Hobijn & Ayşegül Şahin
NBER Working Paper, May 2023 


Aggregate U.S. labor market dynamics are well approximated by a dual labor market supplemented with a third, predominantly, home-production segment. We uncover this structure by estimating a Hidden Markov Model, a machine-learning method. The different market segments are identified through (in-)equality constraints on labor market transition probabilities. This method yields time series of stocks and flows for the three segments for 1980-2021. Workers in the primary sector, who make up around 55 percent of the population, are almost always employed and rarely experience unemployment. The secondary sector, which constitutes 14 percent of the population, absorbs most of the short-run fluctuations, both at seasonal and business cycle frequencies. Workers in this segment experience six times higher turnover rates than those in the primary tier and are ten times more likely to be unemployed than their primary counterparts. The tertiary segment consists of workers who infrequently participate in the labor market but nevertheless experience unemployment when they try to enter the labor force. Our individual-level analysis shows that observable demographic characteristics only explain a small part of the cross-individual variation in segment membership. The combination of the aggregate and individual-level evidence we provide points to dualism in the U.S. labor market being an equilibrium division of labor, under labor market imperfections, that minimizes adjustment costs in response to predictable seasonal as well as unpredictable business cycle fluctuations.

Financial Disruptions and the Organization of Innovation: Evidence from the Great Depression
Tania Babina, Asaf Bernstein & Filippo Mezzanotti
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming 


We examine innovation following the Great Depression using data on a century's worth of U.S. patents and a difference-in-differences design that exploits regional variation in the crisis severity. Harder-hit areas experienced large and persistent declines in independent patenting, mostly reflecting the disruption in access to finance during the crisis. This decline was larger for young and inexperienced inventors and lower-quality patents. In contrast, innovation by large firms increased, especially among young and inexperienced inventors. Overall, the Great Depression contributed to the decline in technological entrepreneurship and accelerated the shift of innovation into larger firms.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.