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 of trends in labor's share typically have relied 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 international sources 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 advantage the most productive firms in each industry, product market concentration will rise as industries become increasingly dominated by superstar firms with high profits and a low share of labor in firm value-added and sales. As the importance of superstar firms increases, the aggregate labor share will tend to fall. Our hypothesis offers several testable predictions: industry sales will increasingly concentrate in a small number of firms; industries where concentration rises most will have the largest declines in the labor share; the fall in the labor share will be driven largely by between-firm reallocation rather than (primarily) a fall in the unweighted mean labor share within firms; 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; and finally, such patterns will be observed not only in U.S. firms, but also internationally. We find support for all of these predictions.
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 significant rise in the incidence of alternative work arrangements in the U.S. economy from 2005 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 15.8 percent in late 2015. The percentage of workers hired out through contract companies showed the largest rise, increasing from 1.4 percent in 2005 to 3.1 percent in 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.
Pharmacy has become a highly remunerated female-majority profession with a small gender earnings gap and low earnings dispersion relative to other occupations. Using extensive surveys of pharmacists for 2000, 2004, and 2009 as well as the U.S. Census of Population, American Community Surveys and the Current Population Surveys, we explore the gender earnings gap, penalty to part-time work, demographics of pharmacists relative to other college graduates and evolution of the profession during the last half century. We conclude that technological changes increasing the substitutability among pharmacists, the growth of pharmacy employment in retail chains and hospitals, and the related decline of independent pharmacies reduced the penalty to part-time work and have contributed to the narrow gender earnings gap in pharmacy. Our findings on earnings, hours of work and the part-time work wage penalty are more consistent with a shift in technology than a shift in demand preferences on the part of workers in a model of equalizing differences. The position of pharmacist is among the most egalitarian of all U.S. professions today.
African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is systematic, rooted in history, and important as an identity marker and expressive resource for its speakers. In these respects, it resembles other vernacular or nonstandard varieties, like Cockney or Appalachian English. But like them, AAVE can trigger discrimination in the workplace, housing market, and schools. Understanding what shapes the relative use of AAVE vs. Standard American English (SAE) is important for policy and scientific reasons. This work presents, to our knowledge, the first experimental estimates of the effects of moving into lower-poverty neighborhoods on AAVE use. We use data on non-Hispanic African-American youth (n = 629) from a large-scale, randomized residential mobility experiment called Moving to Opportunity (MTO), which enrolled a sample of mostly minority families originally living in distressed public housing. Audio recordings of the youth were transcribed and coded for the use of five grammatical and five phonological AAVE features to construct a measure of the proportion of possible instances, or tokens, in which speakers use AAVE rather than SAE speech features. Random assignment to receive a housing voucher to move into a lower-poverty area (the intention-to-treat effect) led youth to live in neighborhoods (census tracts) with an 11 percentage point lower poverty rate on average over the next 10–15 y and reduced the share of AAVE tokens by ∼3 percentage points compared with the MTO control group youth. The MTO effect on AAVE use equals approximately half of the difference in AAVE frequency observed between youth whose parents have a high school diploma and those whose parents do not.
We examine whether online learning technologies have led to lower prices in higher education. Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, we show that online education is concentrated in large for-profit chains and less-selective public institutions. Colleges with a higher share of online students charge lower tuition prices. We present evidence that real and relative prices for full-time undergraduate online education declined from 2006 to 2013. Although the pattern of results suggests some hope that online technology can “bend the cost curve” in higher education, the impact of online learning on education quality remains uncertain.