Topic: Labor markets

with David Card and Moises Yi.

Forthcoming, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics

We use data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program to study the causal effects of location on earnings. Starting from a model with employer and employee fixed effects, we estimate the average earnings premiums associated with jobs in different commuting zones (CZs) and different CZ-industry pairs. About half of the variation in mean wages across CZs is attributable to differences in worker ability (as measured by their fixed effects); the other half is attributable to place effects. We show that the place effects from a richly specified cross sectional wage model overstate the causal effects of place (due to unobserved worker ability), while those from a model that simply adds person fixed effects understate the causal effects (due to unobserved heterogeneity in the premiums paid by different firms in the same CZ). Local industry agglomerations are associated with higher wages, but overall differences in industry composition and in CZ-specific returns to industries explain only a small fraction of average place effects. Estimating separate place effects for college and non-college workers, we find that the college wage gap is bigger in larger and higher-wage places, but that two-thirds of this variation is attributable to differences in the relative skills of the two groups in different places. Most of the remaining variation reflects the enhanced sorting of more educated workers to higher-paying industries in larger and higher-wage CZs. Finally, we find that local housing costs at least fully offset local pay premiums, implying that workers who move to larger CZs have no higher net-of-housing consumption.

with David Card and Moises Yi.

Journal of Labor Economics 42 (S1).
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We revisit the estimation of industry wage differentials using linked employer-employee data from the U.S. LEHD program. Building on recent advances in the measurement of employer wage premiums, we define the industry wage effect as the employment-weighted average workplace premium in that industry. We show that cross-sectional estimates of industry differentials overstate the pay premiums due to unmeasured worker heterogeneity. Conversely, estimates based on industry movers understate the true premiums, due to unmeasured heterogeneity in pay premiums within industries. Industry movers who switch to higher-premium industries tend to leave firms in the origin sector that pay above-average premiums and move to firms in the destination sector with below-average premiums (and vice versa), attenuating the measured industry effects. Our preferred estimates reveal substantial heterogeneity in narrowly-defined industry premiums, with a standard deviation of 12%. On average, workers in higher-paying industries have higher observed and unobserved skills, widening between-industry wage inequality. There are also small but systematic differences in industry premiums across cities, with a wider distribution of pay premiums and more worker sorting in cities with more highpremium firms and high-skilled workers.

with David Card and Moises Yi.

Read the shorter version, forthcoming in AEA Papers & Proceedings. Access replication materials.

We use detailed location information from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) database to develop new evidence on the effects of spatial mismatch on the relative earnings of Black workers in large US cities. We classify workplaces by the size of the pay premiums they offer in a two-way fixed effects model, providing a simple metric for defining “good” jobs. We show that: (a) Black workers earn nearly the same average wage premiums as whites; (b) in most cities Black workers live closer to jobs, and closer to good jobs, than do whites; (c) Black workers typically commute shorter distances than whites; and (d) people who commute further earn higher average pay premiums, but the elasticity with respect to distance traveled is slightly lower for Black workers. We conclude that geographic proximity to good jobs is unlikely to be a major source of the racial earnings gaps in major U.S. cities today.

I study cohort patterns in the labor market outcomes of recent college graduates, examining changes surrounding the Great Recession. Recession entrants have lower wages and employment than those of earlier cohorts; more recent cohorts’ employment is even lower, but the newest entrants’ wages have risen. I relate these changes to “scarring” effects of initial conditions. I demonstrate that adverse early conditions permanently reduce new entrants’ employment probabilities. I also replicate earlier results of medium-term scarring effects on wages that fade out by the early 30s. But scarring cannot account for the employment collapse for recent cohorts. There was a dramatic negative structural break in college graduates’ employment rates, beginning around the 2005 entry cohort, that shows no sign of abating.

with Annette Bernhardt, Chris Campos, Allen Prohofsky, and Aparna Ramesh.

Industrial and Labor Relations Review 76 (2).
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The authors use de-identified data from California personal income tax returns to measure the frequency and nature of independent contracting and self-employment in California. They identify this work by the presence of a Schedule C on the tax return and/or the receipt of a Form 1099 information return. The authors estimate that 14.4% of California workers aged 18 to 64 in tax year 2016 had some independent contracting or self-employment income and approximately half of this subgroup also had earnings from traditional W-2 jobs during the year. Only a small share (1.4%) of workers had earnings from online labor platforms (often called gig work). Workers with low earnings were significantly more likely to earn independent contracting or self-employment income and to rely primarily or exclusively on that income. The article explores the characteristics of workers engaging in independent contracting and self-employment and their distribution across family type, geography, and industry.

with Alex Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, Feng Lin, and Matthew Unrath.

Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.
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We use traditional and nontraditional data to measure the collapse and partial recovery of the US labor market from March to early July, contrast this downturn to previous recessions, and provide preliminary evidence on the effects of the policy response. For hourly workers at both small and large businesses, nearly all of the decline in employment occurred between March 14 and 28. It was driven by low-wage services, particularly the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors. A large share of the job losses in small businesses reflected firms that closed entirely, though many subsequently reopened. Firms that were already unhealthy were more likely to close and less likely to reopen, and disadvantaged workers were more likely to be laid off and less likely to return. Most laid-off workers expected to be recalled, and this was predictive of rehiring. Shelter-in-place orders drove only a small share of job losses. Last, states that received more small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and states with more generous unemployment insurance benefits had milder declines and faster recoveries. We find no evidence that high unemployment insurance replacement rates drove job losses or slowed rehiring.

with Robert G. Valletta

Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 36 (4).
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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.

RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 3(3).
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The years since the 2009 end of the Great Recession have been disastrous for many workers, particularly those with low human capital or other disadvantages. One explanation attributes this to deficient aggregate labor demand, to which marginal workers are more sensitive. A second attributes it to structural changes. Cyclical explanations imply that if aggregate labor demand is increased then many of the post-2009 patterns will revert to their pre-recession trends. Structural explanations suggest recent experience is the “new normal.” This paper reviews data since 2007 for evidence. I examine wage trends to measure the relative importance of supply and demand. I find little wage pressure before 2015, pointing to demand as the binding constraint. The most recent data show some signs of tightness, but still substantial slack.

with Till von Wachter

In Handbook of Field Experiments, vol. 2, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, eds. North Holland.

Large-scale social experiments were pioneered in labor economics, and are the basis for much of what we know about topics ranging from the effect of job training to incentives for job search to labor supply responses to taxation. Random assignment has provided a powerful solution to selection problems that bedevil nonexperimental research. Nevertheless, many important questions about these topics require going beyond random assignment. This applies to questions pertaining to both internal and external validity, and includes effects on endogenously observed outcomes, such as wages and hours; spillover effects; site effects; heterogeneity in treatment effects; multiple and hidden treatments; and the mechanisms producing treatment effects. In this Chapter, we review the value and limitations of randomized social experiments in the labor market, with an emphasis on these design issues and approaches to addressing them. These approaches expand the range of questions that can be answered using experiments by combining experimental variation with econometric or theoretical assumptions. We also discuss efforts to build the means of answering these types of questions into the ex ante design of experiments. Our discussion yields an overview of the expanding toolkit available to experimental researchers.

with Andreas Mueller and Till von Wachter

Journal of Labor Economics 34 (S1, pt. 2).
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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) awards rise during recessions. If marginal applicants are able to work but unable to find jobs, countercyclical Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit extensions may reduce SSDI uptake. Exploiting UI extensions in the Great Recession as a source of variation, we find no indication that expiration of UI benefits causes SSDI applications and can rule out effects of meaningful magnitude. A supplementary analysis finds little overlap between the two programs’ recipient populations: only 28% of SSDI awardees had any labor force attachment in the prior calendar year, and of those, only 4% received UI.