Research Programs

Employment Policy and Labor Markets

Employment Policy and Labor Markets

In 2001, the US economy entered a seventh consecutive year of expansion and unemployment rates were at 30-year lows. Yet, not all shared in the employment boom. Levy Institute research has found that between 1995 and 1999, only 217,000 jobs—of the more than 13 million created—went to the half of the population holding a high school degree or less; the remaining jobs went to those with at least some college education. Today, in an ever-tightening economy, there are almost nine million unemployed—5.6 percent of the labor force—and four job seekers for each available job. In addition, there are roughly 10 million full-time workers whose wages place them at or below the official poverty line. Clearly, there is room for improvement on the jobs front.

In response to this problem, Levy Institute scholars have proposed a full-employment, or job opportunity, program that would employ all who are willing to work and increase flexibility between economic sectors, thereby lowering the social and economic costs of unemployment. This program is preferable to proposed alternatives such as a reduction of the workweek or employment subsidies, neither of which is sure to raise employment—and both may have serious side effects. Other labor market policies studied by Levy Institute scholars include the effects of technology on earnings, and the effects of an increase in the minimum wage on hiring practices and earnings.

Program Publications

  • Working Paper No. 981 | January 2021
    Lessons from Hyman P. Minsky
    The job guarantee is a viable policy option for tackling both unemployment and underemployment. Hyman P. Minsky was one of the seminal writers on this subject. The first part of this working paper provides a survey of Minsky’s writings to identify what kind of jobs he had in mind when recommending employer-of-last-resort policies. Minsky favored: (1) jobs increasing socially useful output, providing all of society better public services and goods; (2) jobs guaranteed by the public sector on a project-by-project basis at a minimum wage; (3) jobs in the places where people need them; and (4) jobs taking the people that need them as they are. The second part of the paper suggests policy recommendations for today’s economy. As long as the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, a targeted public job guarantee program can assist in the social provisioning and distribution of food, shelter, and medical services. After the pandemic, a public job guarantee can reduce poverty and inequality, and bring about a more democratic, sustainable, and socially cohesive economic system.

  • Working Paper No. 976 | November 2020
    This paper consists of three economic literature review essays that survey the Palestinian labor market during the last three decades. The first essay examines the economic return to schooling since 1981 until the recent period, taking into consideration the major shocks that the Palestinian economy experienced, such as the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas (1987–93 and 2000–5), respectively, and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1993. A special focus is laid on overcoming the potential endogeneity arising from the schooling coefficient. The second essay discusses the economic costs of several conflict measures (e.g., time and geographical variation in fatalities and other conflict incidents, days under curfews, checkpoints, movement restrictions, and substitution of foreigner workers for Palestinian labor) on the labor market and human capital. Earnings and unemployment are the main labor market indicators, while the human capital impact was assessed by educational attainment. The third essay sheds light on the wage differential in the Palestinian labor market due to geographical and employment sector factors.

  • Working Paper No. 963 | July 2020
    The COVID-19 pandemic seemingly appeared out of nowhere but changed nearly everything. As the pandemic unfolded, industries deemed nonessential were leveled. Many occupations in these industries are low-wage, and women constitute a greater share of America’s low-wage labor force than men. Even as some workers were able to do their jobs from their homes, a high proportion of “essential workers” were African American, other people of color, women, and an intersection of these groups—women of color. The goal of this paper is to closely examine the contours, depth, and causes of COVID-19’s impact on Black women’s employment in the United States through the lenses of both feminist economic theory and stratification economics.

    The data appendix for Holder, Jones, and Masterson, "The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Job Losses Among Black Women in the United States," forthcoming in Feminist Economics is available here. This appendix includes detailed tables of major labor force indicators by race and sex; employment by race, sex, and industry and occupation; and unemployment by race and sex for early 2020.
    Associated Program:
    Michelle Holder Janelle Jones Thomas Masterson
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  • Policy Note 2020/4 | May 2020
    The ongoing job losses, already numbering in the tens of millions, and the mass unemployment that will remain once the COVID-19 crisis has passed are of our own making, argues Pavlina R. Tcherneva, created by our inability to conceive of policies that protect and create jobs on demand. There is another option: instead of capitulating to a world of guaranteed unemployment, we can demand policies that guarantee employment. During the pandemic, the government can protect jobs by acting as a kind of employer of last resort, while in the post-pandemic world it can create jobs directly via mass mobilization and a job guarantee. In this environment, backstopping payrolls, mass mobilization, and the job guarantee are three different but organically linked policies that aim to secure the right to decent, useful, and remunerative employment opportunities for all.

  • Working Paper No. 949 | February 2020
    This paper extends the empirical stock-flow consistent (SFC) literature through the introduction of distributional features and labor market institutions in a Godley-type empirical SFC model. In particular, labor market institutions, such as the minimum wage and the collective bargaining coverage rate, are considered as determinants of the wage share and, in turn, of the distribution of national income. Thereby, the model is able to examine both the medium-term stability conditions of the economy via the evolution of the sectoral financial balances and the implications of functional income distribution on the growth prospects of the economy at hand. The model is then applied to the Greek economy. The empirical results indicate that the Greek economy has a significant structural competitiveness deficit, while the institutional regime is likely debt-led. The policies implemented in the context of the economic adjustment programs were highly inappropriate, triggering private sector insolvency. A minimum wage increase is projected to have a positive impact on output growth and employment. However, policies that would enhance the productive sector’s structural competitiveness are required in order to ensure the growth prospects of the Greek economy.

  • Working Paper No. 946 | February 2020
    A Comment on Autor and Salomons
    We show that Autor and Salomons’ (2017, 2018) analysis of the impact of technical progress on employment growth is problematic. When they use labor productivity growth as a proxy for technical progress, their regressions are quasi-accounting identities that omit one variable of the identity. Consequently, the coefficient of labor productivity growth suffers from omitted-variable bias, where the omitted variable is known. The use of total factor productivity (TFP) growth as a proxy for technical progress does not solve the problem. Contrary to what the profession has argued for decades, we show that this variable is not a measure of technical progress. This is because TFP growth derived residually from a production function, together with the conditions for producer equilibrium, can also be derived from an accounting identity without any assumption. We interpret TFP growth as a measure of distributional changes. This identity also indicates that Autor and Salomons’ estimates of TFP growth’s impact on employment growth are biased due to the omission of the other variables in the identity. Overall, we conclude that their work does not shed light on the question they address.

  • Working Paper No. 941 | December 2019
    This paper measures the wage differential between Palestinian non-refugees and Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza over the years 1999–2012. First, the main individual and occupational differences between the two groups in the two regions are presented. Then, the wage differential is decomposed into two components: a “human capital effect, explained part” and a “coefficient effect, unexplained part.” Second, findings suggest that though the wage gap has always existed and favored non-refugees in the West Bank, it has a more substantial impact among low-skilled workers and those in the private sector. Furthermore, most of this gap is attributed to the unexplained part of the wage decomposition model. In Gaza, the wage gap favored refugee workers. Most of this wage gap among unskilled workers is attributed to the endowment/human capital effect, while for skilled workers most of the wage gap is due to the unexplained part—the “coefficient effect”—after 2006.

  • Working Paper No. 939 | October 2019
    The Case of Ghana
    Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a widely recognized human rights violation with serious consequences for the health and well-being of women and their families. However, the wider ramifications of VAWG for businesses, communities, economies, and societies are only recently being recognized. Despite this recognition, there are few studies exploring how the economic and social impacts of VAWG affect economic growth, development, and social stability. In this paper, applying the social accounting approach, we outline the ripple effects of VAWG from the individual micro-level impacts to the macroeconomy. Our analysis shows the loss due to VAWG amounts to about 0.94 percent of Ghanaian GDP and is a permanent invisible leakage from the circular flow of the economy. The analysis also shows that the loss due to violence is not just a one-off leakage from the macroeconomic circular flow and explores the potential consequences of the multiplier loss due to VAWG over a period of time. The cumulative loss is sizeable and inflicts a premium on GDP growth over time—in simple terms, inaction today in addressing VAWG for cost considerations will impose a larger cost premium on economic growth, which will constrain tomorrow’s resources.
    Associated Program(s):
    Srinivas Raghavendra Kijong Kim Sinead Ashe Mrinal Chadha Felix Asante Petri T. Piiroinen Nata Duvvury
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  • Working Paper No. 923 | February 2019
    The New Deal and Postwar France Experiments
    By the beginning of the 20th century, the possibility and efficacy of economic planning was believed to have been proven by totalitarian experiments in Germany, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser degree, Fascist Italy; however, the possibilities and limitations of planning in capitalist democracies was unclear. The challenge in the United States in the 1930s and in postwar France was to find ways to make planning work under capitalism and democratic conditions, where private agents were free to not accept its directives.
    This paper begins by examining the experience with planning during the first years of the New Deal in the United States, centered on the creation and operation of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), and continues with a discussion of the French experience with indicative planning in the aftermath of World War II. A digression follows, touching on the proximity between the matters treated in this paper and Keynes’s view that macroeconomic stabilization could require a measure of socialization of investments, following James Tobin’s hunch that French indicative planning, as well as some social democrat experiences in Northern Europe, could be playing precisely that role. The paper concludes by identifying the lessons one can draw from the two experiences.

  • Working Paper No. 922 | February 2019
    Exploring the Causes and Consequences of Education-Occupation Job Mismatch
    With the rapid increase in educational attainment, technological change, and greater job specialization, decisions regarding human capital investment are no longer exclusively about the quantity of education, but rather the type of education to obtain. The skills and knowledge acquired in specific fields of study are more valuable for some jobs compared to others, which suggests the existence of differences in the quality of the education-occupation match in the labor market. With this premise in mind, this paper aims to estimate the effect of the quality of this education-occupation job match on workers’ wages and to explore the factors that contribute to the existence of such mismatch among workers with higher education (college or more). Using data from the American Community Survey 2010–16, we construct two indices that measure the quality of the education-occupation match: based on the predicted and observed distribution of workers using their fields of education and their jobs’ occupation classification. Results suggest there is a wage gap of around 3–4 percent when comparing workers that have good job matches to those who have bad matches. Given the importance of the penalty for mismatched jobs, we find that structural characteristics such as unemployment, and individual characteristics such as gender, race, immigration status, and even homeownership affect the quality of horizontal mismatch as well.
    Associated Program:
    Fernando Rios-Avila Fabiola Saavedra Caballero
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