Working conditions

Kevin Lewis

April 25, 2018

Wage Stagnation and Buyer Power: How Buyer-Supplier Relations Affect U.S. Workers’ Wages, 1978 to 2014
Nathan Wilmers
American Sociological Review, April 2018, Pages 213-242


Since the 1970s, market restructuring has shifted many workers into workplaces heavily reliant on sales to outside corporate buyers. These outside buyers wield substantial power over working conditions among their suppliers. During the same period, wage growth for middle-income workers stagnated. By extending organizational theories of wage-setting to incorporate interactions between organizations, I predict that wage stagnation resulted in part from production workers’ heightened exposure to buyer power. Panel data on publicly traded companies shows that dependence on large buyers lowers suppliers’ wages and accounts for 10 percent of wage stagnation in nonfinancial firms since the 1970s. These results are robust to a series of supplementary measures of buyer power; instrumental variable analysis using mergers between buyers; corrections for selection and missing data; and controls for individual worker characteristics like education and occupation. The results show how product market restructuring and new forms of economic segmentation affect workers’ wages. The spread of unequal bargaining relations between corporate buyers and their suppliers has slowed wage growth for workers.

Concentration in US Labor Markets: Evidence From Online Vacancy Data
José Azar et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


Using data on the near-universe of online US job vacancies collected by Burning Glass Technologies in 2016, we calculate labor market concentration using the Herfindahl-Hirschman index (HHI) for each commuting zone by 6-digit SOC occupation. The average market has an HHI of 3,953, or the equivalent of 2.5 recruiting employers. 54% of labor markets are highly concentrated (above 2,500 HHI) according to the DOJ/FTC guidelines. Highly concentrated markets account for 17% of employment. All plausible alternative market definitions show that more than 33% of markets are highly concentrated, suggesting that employers have market power in many US labor markets.

Strong Employers and Weak Employees: How Does Employer Concentration Affect Wages?
Efraim Benmelech, Nittai Bergman & Hyunseob Kim
Northwestern University Working Paper, March 2018


We analyze the effect of local-level labor market concentration on wages. Using plant-level U.S. Census data over the period 1977–2009, we find that: (1) local-level employer concentration exhibits substantial cross-sectional and time-series variation and increases over time; (2) consistent with labor market monopsony power, there is a negative relation between local-level employer concentration and wages that is more pronounced at high levels of concentration and increases over time; (3) the negative relation between labor market concentration and wages is stronger when unionization rates are low; (4) the link between productivity growth and wage growth is stronger when labor markets are less concentrated; and (5) exposure to greater import competition from China (the “China Shock”) is associated with more concentrated labor markets. These five results emphasize the role of local-level labor market monopsonies in influencing firm wage-setting.

Labor Market Power and Firm Financial Flexibility
Alan Kwan & Yukun Liu
Yale Working Paper, March 2018


Using a novel database representing the near-universe of US online job postings, we examine the role of firms’ labor market power on financial flexibility and corporate policy. Validating our measure, within a county-occupation, high labor market power is associated with lower posted wages. The measure is associated with lower cash holdings and market beta, and higher Tobin’s Q and profitability. The relation is stronger in industries that are labor intensive, which have high worker mobility, and low rates of unionization and attributable to market-share over high skill jobs. High labor market power firms react less to passages of enforcement of non-compete laws, which we use as a difference-in-differences strategy. The result is consistent with the idea that high labor market power firms are less exposed to shocks in the labor market.

Antitrust Remedies for Labor Market Power
Suresh Naidu, Eric Posner & Glen Weyl
Harvard Law Review, forthcoming


Recent research indicates that labor market power has contributed to wage inequality and economic stagnation. Although the antitrust laws prohibit firms from restricting competition in labor markets like in product markets, the government does little to address the labor market problem and private litigation has been rare and mostly unsuccessful. The reason is that the analytic methods for evaluating labor market power in antitrust contexts are primitive, far less sophisticated than the legal rules used to judge product market power. To remedy this asymmetry, we propose methods for judging the effects of mergers on labor markets. We also extend our approach to other forms of anticompetitive practices undertaken by employers against workers. We highlight some arguments and evidence indicating that market power may be even more important in labor than in product markets.

Superstar (and Entrepreneurial) Engineers in Finance Jobs
Nandini Gupta & Isaac Hacamo
Indiana University Working Paper, March 2018


Does rapid wage growth in the financial sector in recent decades attract scarce talent to finance, thereby affecting talented workers’ long-term career paths? To study this question we focus on the careers of elite engineers, whose skills are in demand across the economy and who have the potential to become transformative entrepreneurs. Using plausibly exogenous variation in local financial sector growth, we compare U.S. engineering graduates from 12 top schools in the same graduating class and major, and show that engineers from higher ranked schools, and those with graduation honors, are more likely to switch from other sectors to finance. We find that financial sector growth attracts highly talented engineers into financial sector occupations that do not fully use their skills, which leads these engineers to engage in less innovative entrepreneurship in the long-run, compared to their classmates who remain in engineering. Our results are robust to alternative specifications, including a measure of geographic location based on engineers’ hometowns.

Governors' Party Affiliation and Unions
Louis‐Philippe Beland & Bulent Unel
Industrial Relations, April 2018, Pages 177-205


Employing a regression discontinuity (RD) approach on gubernatorial elections in the United States over the last three decades, this paper investigates the causal effects of governors' party affiliation (Democrat versus Republican) on unionization of workers, and unionized workers' working hours and earnings. Surprisingly, we find no significant impact from the party affiliation of governors on union membership and union workers' labor‐market outcomes.

Demographics and Automation
Daron Acemoglu & Pascual Restrepo
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


We argue theoretically and document empirically that aging leads to greater (industrial) automation, and in particular, to more intensive use and development of robots. Using US data, we document that robots substitute for middle-aged workers (those between the ages of 36 and 55). We then show that demographic change — corresponding to an increasing ratio of older to middle-aged workers — is associated with greater adoption of robots and other automation technologies across countries and with more robotics-related activities across US commuting zones. We also provide evidence of more rapid development of automation technologies in countries undergoing greater demographic change. Our directed technological change model further predicts that the induced adoption of automation technology should be more pronounced in industries that rely more on middle-aged workers and those that present greater opportunities for automation. Both of these predictions receive support from country-industry variation in the adoption of robots. Our model also implies that the productivity implications of aging are ambiguous when technology responds to demographic change, but we should expect productivity to increase and labor share to decline relatively in industries that are most amenable to automation, and this is indeed the pattern we find in the data.

Farm size and productivity growth in the United States Corn Belt
Nigel Key
Food Policy, forthcoming


In recent decades, agricultural production in the U.S. has continued to shift to large-scale operations, raising concerns about the economic viability of small and midsized farms. To understand whether economies of size provided an incentive for the consolidation of production, the study estimates the total factor productivity (TFP) of five size classes of grain-producing farms in the U.S. Heartland (Corn Belt) region. Using quinquennial Agricultural Census data from 1982 to 2012 the study also compares TFP growth rates across farm sizes to gain insight into whether observed productivity differences are likely to persist. The finding of a strong positive relationship between farm size and TFP suggests that consolidation of production has contributed to recent aggregate productivity growth in the crop sector. The study estimates the extent to which sectoral productivity growth can be attributed to structural change versus other factors including technological change. The study also explores some tradeoffs associated with policies that raise the productivity of small versus large farms.

Income Volatility and the PSID: Past Research and New Results
Robert Moffitt & Sisi Zhang
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


The Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has made more contributions to the study of income volatility than any other data set in the U.S. Its record of research is truly seminal. In this paper we first present the reasons that the PSID has made such major contributions to research on the topic. Then we review the major papers that have used the PSID to study income volatility and we compare their results to those using other data sets. Lastly, we present new results for male earnings volatility through 2014. We find that both gross volatility and the component consisting of only the variance of transitory shocks have experienced a large increase during the Great Recession after following similar trends to those previously established showing upward trends from the 1970s to the 1980s followed by a stable period until the Recession.

Early-Stage Business Formation: An Analysis of Applications for Employer Identification Numbers
Kimberly Bayard et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


This paper reports on the development and analysis of a newly constructed dataset on the early stages of business formation. The data are based on applications for Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) submitted in the United States, known as IRS Form SS-4 filings. The goal of the research is to develop high-frequency indicators of business formation at the national, state, and local levels. The analysis indicates that EIN applications provide forward-looking and very timely information on business formation. The signal of business formation provided by counts of applications is improved by using the characteristics of the applications to model the likelihood that applicants become employer businesses. The results also suggest that EIN applications are related to economic activity at the local level. For example, application activity is higher in counties that experienced higher employment growth since the end of the Great Recession, and application counts grew more rapidly in counties engaged in shale oil and gas extraction. Finally, the paper provides a description of new public-use dataset, the “Business Formation Statistics (BFS),” that contains new data series on business applications and formation. The initial release of the BFS shows that the number of business applications in the 3rd quarter of 2017 that have relatively high likelihood of becoming job creators is still far below pre-Great Recession levels.

Computerizing Industries and Routinizing Jobs: Explaining Trends in Aggregate Productivity
Sangmin Aum, Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee & Yongseok Shin
NBER Working Paper, February 2018


Aggregate productivity growth in the U.S. has slowed down since the 2000s. We quantify the importance of differential productivity growth across occupations and across industries, and the rise of computers since the 1980s, for the productivity slowdown. Complementarity across occupations and industries in production shrinks the relative size of those with high productivity growth, reducing their contributions toward aggregate productivity growth, resulting in its slowdown. We find that such a force, especially the shrinkage of occupations with above-average productivity growth through “routinization,” was present since the 1980s. Through the end of the 1990s, this force was countervailed by the extraordinarily high productivity growth in the computer industry, of which output became an increasingly more important input in all industries (“computerization”). It was only when the computer industry's productivity growth slowed down in the 2000s that the negative effect of routinization on aggregate productivity became apparent. We also show that the decline in the labor income share can be attributed to computerization, which substitutes labor across all industries.

Long-Term Effects of Job-Search Assistance: Experimental Evidence Using Administrative Tax Data
Dayanand Manoli, Marios Michaelides & Ankur Patel
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


This paper uses administrative tax data to examine the long-term effects of an experimental job-search assistance program operating in Nevada in 2009. The program required randomly-selected unemployed workers who had just started collecting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to undergo an eligibility review and receive personalized job-counseling services. The program led to substantial short-term reductions in UI receipt, and to persistent, long-term increases in employment and earnings. The program also affected participants’ family outcomes, including total income, tax filing, tax liability, and home ownership. These findings show that job-search assistance programs may produce substantial long-term effects for participants and their families.

The Transformation of Manufacturing and the Decline in U.S. Employment
Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst & Mariel Schwartz
NBER Working Paper, March 2018


Using data from a variety of sources, this paper comprehensively documents the dramatic changes in the manufacturing sector and the large decline in employment rates and hours worked among prime-aged Americans since 2000. We use cross-region variation to explore the link between declining manufacturing employment and labor market outcomes. We find that manufacturing decline in a local area in the 2000s had large and persistent negative effects on local employment rates, hours worked and wages. We also show that declining local manufacturing employment is related to rising local opioid use and deaths. These results suggest that some of the recent opioid epidemic is driven by demand factors in addition to increased opioid supply. We conclude the paper with a discussion of potential mediating factors associated with declining manufacturing labor demand including public and private transfer receipt, sectoral switching, and inter-region mobility. Overall, we conclude that the decline in manufacturing employment was a substantial cause of the decline in employment rates during the 2000s particularly for less educated prime age workers. Given the trends in both capital and skill deepening within this sector, we further conclude that many policies currently being discussed to promote the manufacturing sector will have only a modest labor market impact for less educated individuals.

The Effect of an Early Career Recession on Schooling and Lifetime Welfare
Naijia Guo
International Economic Review, forthcoming


This paper evaluates the lifetime welfare and labor market consequences of experiencing a recession during youth, using a directed search equilibrium model with heterogeneous agents and aggregate shocks. In particular, the model allows for endogenous schooling decisions over the business cycles. The counterfactual analysis shows that experiencing the 1981-1982 recession in youth causes a 1.6% to 2.3% loss in lifetime welfare. Endogenizing the schooling decision avoids overestimation of welfare loss because of the selection effect and the human capital effect. I also decompose lifetime wage changes into different channels: changes from schooling, work experience, and job mobility.

Are Recessions Good for Government Hires? The Effect of Unemployment on Public Sector Human Capital
Congshan Zhang & John de Figueiredo
NBER Working Paper, April 2018


Utilizing a large dataset on U.S. federal government employees covering 24 years, we estimate and analyze the persistent wage effect of entering government employment during recessions for recent college graduates and other new employees. Contrary to previous results in the literature for private sector employees, we document a significant and long-term wage increase for federal civil servants who enter government service in recessions. We show this result is robust to alternative samples and model specifications. We conclude by examining agency occupation composition and job matching as mechanisms for these results.


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