Grant Category

The Labor Market

How does the labor market affect equitable growth? How does inequality in turn affect the labor market?

The labor market is one of the most important institutions determining economic growth and its distribution, as labor income is more than two-thirds of national income. Skill levels and the efficient matching of skills to jobs are key for economic growth. Yet the labor market is not a perfectly competitive market, but rather one that is regulated by a wide array of institutions that affect labor income and its distribution.

We need a better understanding of the two-way link between equitable growth and the labor market. How does the labor market affect equitable growth? How does inequality, in turn, affect the labor market?

  • The effect of the labor market on equitable growth
  • The effects of inequality on the labor market
  • The effects of productivity on the labor market

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Superstar Firms and Regional Disparities

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $15,000

Grant Type: doctoral

This project investigates the relationship between two trends: the significant rise in regional inequality in the United States, with a small number of highly educated urban cities accounting for a growing share of national income, and the increasing dominance of large, multiregion services firms such as Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and Starbucks Corp., as reflected in measures of average firm size and market concentration. These “superstar” firms create high-paying, high-skill jobs in large cities and low-paying jobs in nonurban areas across the country, displacing local and regional competitors in the process and leading to increasingly unequal demand for skills across regions. Kleinman will utilize private data from Dun and Bradstreet and Burning Glass Technologies, as well as public data from the American Community Survey and the Panel Database on Incentives and Taxes. He will combine an empirical investigation of the relationship between firms’ spatial expansion and regional inequality with the development and quantification of a novel economic geography model that features expansion of multiregion firms to analyze the labor demand of firms across different markets and occupations.

Sectoral bargaining and spillovers in monopsonistic labour markets

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $15,000

Grant Type: doctoral

There is increasing evidence of monopsony power in labor markets, with implications of lower wages and higher inequality. One popular policy recommendation is to constrain such monopsony power through more organized unions of workers, such as in local bargaining councils—collections of trade unions and employers representing specific industry-regions that consultatively bargain over and set minimum wages and working conditions for those industry-regions. This project will study the effect of such “sectoral bargaining” using South African data. Using matched employer-employee tax data from the South African Revenue Service, Bassier will match these agreements to firms as demarcated by industry and location. There are currently 39 legally recognized bargaining councils in South Africa, each covering a specific industry-region. Bargaining councils are estimated to cover 40 percent of workers in the formal sector in South Africa, concentrated mainly in the manufacturing, construction, trade, and transport industries in addition to covering the public sector. This research could give insight into how sectoral bargaining could improve worker power and mitigate the effects of monopsonistic labor markets.

Minimum Wages and Employment Composition

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $64,000

Grant Type: academic

There is a large literature exploring the tension between increasing minimum wages in order to raise the hourly wages of workers and having these increases offset by reductions in overall employment or hours worked by low-wage employees. Understanding the distributional impacts of minimum wage increases is therefore essential. This project seeks to provide some of the first empirical evidence on how minimum wage reforms change firms’ occupational composition, distribution of hours, and scheduling practices. To do this, the authors will leverage shift-level microdata for the near-universe of employees and contract workers at U.S. nursing homes from the Payroll Based Journal program. The nursing home industry is an attractive setting for this research as it is a major employer of low-wage workers, especially certified nursing assistants, who provide the majority of patient care at nursing homes, are typically paid at or just above the minimum wage, and the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. Moreover, many low-wage staff intend to work in the industry throughout their careers, in stark contrast to more heavily studied low-wage industries such as restaurants and retail, where many workers expect to leave the industry quickly. Accordingly, wage policies in the nursing home sector have the potential to not only affect the economic well-being of low-income workers but also shape gender and racial pay divides. In addition, the nursing home industry is of particular interest to regulators and policymakers since Medicaid and Medicare finance the vast majority of long-term care, and policies that affect the wages of employees in this sector will correspondingly affect state and federal budgets. Employment or composition changes may also have important consequences for quality of care.

The Effect of Government Safety Enforcement on Workers: Evidence from Linked Employer-Employee Data

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $65,000

Grant Type: academic

Johnson and Levine seek to understand how enforcement of government safety regulations affects workers’ wages and how the effect differs across groups of workers based on income, race, and ethnicity in the United States. While prior work focused on whether inspections lower subsequent workplace injuries and affect overall establishment payroll, scholars don’t know much, if anything, about the impact of inspections on individual workers’ wages. If regulatory enforcement lowers wages at the same time it improves health and safety, then the overall effects on worker well-being may be mixed. The two researchers will utilize the randomness of inspections by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This setting offers a unique opportunity to evaluate the effects of inspections as if examining a randomized controlled trial. Johnson and Levine plan to compare the trajectories of establishments (and workers at those establishments) randomly selected for inspection to those eligible but not selected for inspection. Inspection data will be linked to the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data series. In addition to yielding new evidence about the impact of safety and health regulatory enforcement on workers’ wages, this work also has the potential to contribute to the current literature on monopsony power in labor markets by investigating whether the effect of inspections on wages varies by local labor market concentration.

Finding Work with Carceral Credentials: Peril and Paradox

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $15,000

Grant Type: doctoral

Surveillance is increasing in almost all areas of U.S. society. In formerly incarcerated Black men’s lives, surveillance represents a pervasive threat that operates through both techniques and technologies. Research shows that fear of surveillance leads formerly incarcerated Black men to avoid vital economic institutions. Prior research also finds that a criminal record diminishes Black men’s employment prospects. This research will extend the literature by examining how a criminal record operates as a credential that enables work but limits upward mobility by pulling ex-offenders into community-based, low-quality crime prevention jobs and also constrains work through surveillance practices that reinforce the stigma of the criminal record. This qualitative work will utilize archival, interview, and ethnographic methods and focus on Black men in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. This research seeks to demonstrate the often-invisible ways that surveillance mechanisms reproduce racial inequalities, advancing our theoretical understanding of how surveillance mediates access to socioeconomic resources, and providing insight into substantive interventions.

Power and Dignity in Low-Wage Labor Markets: Evidence from Wal-Mart Workers

Grant Year: 2021

Grant Amount: $50,000

Grant Type: academic

A growing body of evidence suggests that monopsony power is an important feature of the low-wage labor market. One reason why employers have some degree of wage-setting power is that jobs are differentiated, meaning workers differently value certain “amenities.” Existing research shows the valuation of nonwage characteristics such as control over schedules. Yet more evidence is needed to understand how nonwage amenities contribute to workplace power. This research will use a Facebook survey of workers at Walmart Inc. to shed new light on the degree of monopsony power in the U.S. labor market and the role of amenities in monopsony. The survey presents Walmart workers with hypothetical job offers, with random wage draws, to estimate the quit elasticity. This can be translated into the firm-specific labor supply curve, a measure of the degree of monopsony. Dube will then ask how amenities other than wages at the job affect quits, specifically using a regression framework to scale those factors into a money-metric valuation of different amenities. He will then zoom into "dignity at work" as a specific type of amenity and will test whether minimum wages may affect amenity provision by firms.

Experts

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Stephen Woodbury

Michigan State University

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Jess Benhabib

New York University

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Atif Mian

Princeton University

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Samir Sonti

CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

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Stefanie Stantcheva

Harvard University

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