The human capital construct is deep in the bones of economics and finds reference by many classical economists, even if they did not use the phrase. The term “human capital,” seldom mentioned in economics before the 1950s, increased starting in the 1960s and blossomed in the 1990s. The upsurge in NBER publications was even greater. Using EconLit codes from 1990 to 2019, the use of human capital among NBER books increased from 5% to 25%, whereas all economics books changed from 3% to 6%. For NBER working papers, 3% referenced human capital around 1990, but 10% have more recently. The figures for all economics articles are 4% and 6%. The NBER played an outsized role in the rise of the concept of human capital mainly because of the emphasis on empiricism at the NBER. We explore how the NBER was an incubator of human capital research and the ways human capital theory brought the NBER into the modern era of economics.
Low-income families in the United States tend to live in neighborhoods that offer limited opportunities for upward income mobility. One potential explanation for this pattern is that families prefer such neighborhoods for other reasons, such as affordability or proximity to family and jobs. An alternative explanation is that they do not move to high-opportunity areas because of barriers that prevent them from making such moves. We test between these two explanations using a randomized controlled trial with housing voucher recipients in Seattle and King County. We provided services to reduce barriers to moving to high-upward-mobility neighbor- hoods: customized search assistance, landlord engagement, and short-term financial assistance. Unlike many previous housing mobility programs, families using vouchers were not required to move to a high-opportunity neighborhood to receive a voucher. The intervention increased the fraction of families who moved to high-upward-mobility areas from 15% in the control group to 53% in the treatment group. Families induced to move to higher opportunity areas by the treatment do not make sacrifices on other aspects of neighborhood quality, tend to stay in their new neighborhoods when their leases come up for renewal, and report higher levels of neighborhood satisfaction after moving. These findings imply that most low-income families do not have a strong preference to stay in low-opportunity areas; instead, barriers in the housing search process are a central driver of residential segregation by income. Interviews with families reveal that the capacity to address each family’s needs in a specific manner – from emotional support to brokering with landlords to customized financial assistance – was critical to the pro- gram’s success. Using quasi-experimental analyses and comparisons to other studies, we show that more standardized policies – increasing voucher payment standards in high-opportunity areas or informational interventions – have much smaller impacts. We conclude that redesigning affordable housing policies to provide customized assistance in housing search could reduce residential segregation and increase upward mobility substantially.
The race between education and technology provides a canonical framework that does an excellent job of explaining US wage structure changes across the twentieth century. The framework involves secular increases in the demand for more-educated workers from skill-biased technological change, combined with variations in the supply of skills from changes in educational access. We expand the analysis backwards and forwards. The framework helps explain rising skill differentials in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, but needs to be augmented to illuminate the recent convexification of education returns and implied slowdown in the growth of the relative demand for college workers. Increased educational wage differentials explain 75 percent of the rise of U.S. wage inequality from 1980 to 2000 as compared to 38 percent for 2000 to 2017.
The fall of labor's share of GDP in the United States and many other countries in recent decades is well documented but its causes remain uncertain. Existing empirical assessments typically rely on industry or macro data, obscuring heterogeneity among firms. In this paper, we analyze micro panel data from the U.S. Economic Census since 1982 and document empirical patterns to assess a new interpretation of the fall in the labor share based on the rise of “superstar firms." If globalization or technological changes push sales towards the most productive firms in each industry, product market concentration will rise as industries become increasingly dominated by superstar firms. Since these firms have high markups and a low labor share of value-added and sales, a reallocation of output toward superstar firms depresses the aggregate labor share. We empirically assess seven predictions of this hypothesis: (i) industry sales will increasingly concentrate in a small number of firms; (ii) industries where concentration rises most will have the largest declines in the labor share; (iii) the fall in the labor share will be driven largely by reallocation rather than a fall in the unweighted mean labor share across all firms; (iv) the between firm reallocation component of the fall in the labor share will be greatest in the sectors with the largest increases in market concentration; (v) the industries that are becoming more concentrated will exhibit faster growth of productivity; (vi) the aggregate markup will rise more than the typical firm's markup; and (vii) these patterns should be observed not only in U.S. firms, but also internationally. We find support for all of these predictions.
This paper describes and tries to reconcile trends in alternative work arrangements in the United States using data from the Contingent Worker Survey supplements to the Current Population Survey (CPS) for 1995 to 2017, the 2015 RAND-Princeton Contingent Work Survey (CWS), and administrative tax data from the Internal Revenue Service for 2000 to 2016. We conclude that there likely has been a modest upward trend in the share of the U.S. workforce in alternative work arrangements during the 2000s based on the cyclically-adjusted comparisons of the CPS CWS’s, measures using self-respondents in the CPS CWS, and measures of self-employment and 1099 workers from administrative tax data. We also present evidence from Amazon Mechanical Turk that suggests that the basic monthly CPS question on multiple job holding misses many instances of multiple job holding.
To monitor trends in alternative work arrangements, we conducted a version of the Contingent Worker Survey as part of the RAND American Life Panel in late 2015. The findings point to a rise in the incidence of alternative work arrangements in the U.S. economy from 1995 to 2015. The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.7 percent in February 2005 to possibly as high as 15.8 percent in late 2015. Workers who provide services through online intermediaries, such as Uber or Task Rabbit, accounted for 0.5 percent of all workers in 2015. About twice as many workers selling goods or services directly to customers reported finding customers through offline intermediaries than through online intermediaries.
American women are working more, through their sixties and even into their seventies. Their increased participation at older ages started in the late 1980s before the turnaround in older men’s labor force participation and the economic downturns of the 2000s. The higher labor force participation of older women consists disproportionately of those working at full-time jobs. Increased labor force participation of women in their older ages is part of the general increase in cohort labor force participation. Cohort effects, in turn, are mainly a function of educational advances and greater prior work experience. But labor force participation rates of the most recent cohorts in their forties are less than those for previous cohorts. It would appear that employment at older ages could stagnate or even decrease. But several other factors will be operating in an opposing direction leading us to conclude that women are likely to continue to work even longer.
In recent decades, wage inequality in the United States has increased and real wages for less-skilled workers have declined. As a result, many American workers are unable to adequately support their families through work, even working full time. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has helped to counter this trend and has become one of the nation’s most effective antipoverty policies. But most of its benefits have gone to workers with children. The maximum credit available to workers without dependent children is just over $500, and workers lose eligibility entirely once their annual earnings reach $15,000.
There has been bipartisan support for expanding the EITC for this group of workers. Paycheck Plus is a test of that idea. The program, which provides a bonus of up to $2,000 at tax time, is being evaluated using a randomized controlled trial in two major American cities: New York City and Atlanta, Georgia. This report presents interim findings from the test of Paycheck Plus in New York City. Between September 2013 and February 2014, the project in New York recruited just over 6,000 low-income, single adults without dependent children to take part in the study. Half of them were selected at random to be offered a Paycheck Plus bonus for three years, starting with the 2015 tax season.
The program sought to mirror the process by which filers apply for the federal EITC, even though the bonus was not administered by the Internal Revenue Service. Participants needed to apply for each bonus, and receipt of it was not automatic with tax filing.
About 64 percent of individuals in the program group who had earnings in the eligible range received bonuses in the first year (2015), and 57 percent received bonuses in the second year (2016). Among those who received bonuses, the average amount received was $1,400.
Paycheck Plus increased after-bonus income (earnings plus bonuses) in both years, and increased employment in 2015.
Paycheck Plus increased tax filing in both tax filing seasons.
Paycheck Plus increased the payment of child support in 2015.
Paycheck Plus increased employment in 2015 for most types of participants, although its effects were larger among women than among men.
These findings are consistent with research on the federal EITC showing that an expanded credit can increase after-transfer income and encourage employment without creating work disincentives. Later reports will examine effects after three years on income, work, and other measures of well-being, in both New York City and Atlanta.
The recent fall of labor’s share of GDP in numerous countries is well-documented, but its causes are poorly understood. We sketch a “superstar firm” model where industries are increasingly characterized by “winner take most” competition, leading a small number of highly profitable (and low labor share) firms to command growing market share. Building on Autor et al. (2017), we evaluate and confirm two core claims of the superstar firm hypothesis: the concentration of sales among firms within industries has risen across much of the private sector; and industries with larger increases in concentration exhibit a larger decline in labor’s share.
The share of U.S. workers in alternative work arrangements has increased substantially in recent decades. Micro longitudinal analyses show that unemployed workers are much more likely to transition into alternative work arrangements than other workers. Macro time-series evidence shows that weak labor market conditions lead to an increase in non-traditional work. But the estimated magnitudes imply that Great Recession and high unemployment in the 2000s can account for only a modest part of the rise in alternative work. Secular factors associated with rising inequality and technological changes making it easier to contract out work appear to be the driving forces.
Roland Fryer is an extraordinary applied microeconomist whose research output related to racial inequality, the US racial achievement gap, and the design and evaluation of educational policies make him a worthy recipient of the 2015 John Bates Clark Medal. I will divide this survey of Roland's research into five categories: the racial achievement gap, education policies and reforms, economics of social interactions, the economics of discrimination and anti-discrimination policies, and further topics involving the black-white racial divide.
The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment offered randomly selected families living in high-poverty housing projects housing vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods. We present new evidence on the impacts of MTO on children's long-term outcomes using administrative data from tax returns. We find that moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood significantly improves college attendance rates and earnings for children who were young (below age 13) when their families moved. These children also live in better neighborhoods themselves as adults and are less likely to become single parents. The treatment effects are substantial: children whose families take up an experimental voucher to move to a lower-poverty area when they are less than 13 years old have an annual income that is $3,477 (31%) higher on average relative to a mean of $11,270 in the control group in their mid-twenties. In contrast, the same moves have, if anything, negative long-term impacts on children who are more than 13 years old when their families move, perhaps because of disruption effects. The gains from moving fall with the age when children move, consistent with recent evidence that the duration of exposure to a better environment during childhood is a key determinant of an individual's long-term outcomes. The findings imply that offering families with young children living in high-poverty housing projects vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods may reduce the intergenerational persistence of poverty and ultimately generate positive returns for taxpayers.
We study employers’ perceptions of postsecondary degrees using a field experiment. We randomly assign the sector (for-profit vs. public) and selectivity of institution to fictitious resumes and send them to real vacancy postings on a large online job board. We find that a bachelor’s degree in business from a for-profit “online” institution is 22 percent less likely to receive a callback than a similar degree from a non-selective public institution. For health jobs that do not require a certificate, we find that a certificate from a for-profit institution is 57 percent less likely to receive a callback than a similar certificate from a public community college. For reasons that differ by each set of jobs, we find no difference in callback rates by postsecondary sector for business jobs that do not have degree requirements and we also find no difference for health jobs that require a certificate and valid license. Bachelor’s degrees from selective public institutions are relatively more likely to receive callbacks from employers posting higher-salaried jobs, suggesting that employers value both college quality and the likelihood of a successful match when contacting job applicants.
We explore the extent to which composition, duration dependence, and labor force non-participation can account for the sharp increase in the incidence of long-term unemployment (LTU) during the Great Recession. We first show that compositional shifts in demographics, occupation, industry, region, and the reason for unemployment jointly account for very little of the observed increase in LTU. Next, using panel data from the Current Population Survey for 2002-2007, we calibrate a matching model that allows for duration dependence in the exit rate from unemployment and for transitions between employment (E), unemployment (U), and non-participation (N). We model the job-fi nding rates for the unemployed and non-participants, and we use observed vacancy rates and the transition rates from E-to-U, E-to-N, N-to-U, and U-to-N as the exogenous forcing variablesof the model. The calibrated model can account for almost all of the increase in the incidence of LTU and much of the observed outward shift in the Beveridge curve between 2008 and 2013. Both negative duration dependence in the job- finding rate for the unemployed and transitions to and from non-participation contribute significantly to the ability of the model to match the data after 2008.