Getting Labor Markets Right: Occupational mobility and worker outside options [in progress]

Gregor Schubert, Anna Stansbury and Bledi Taska

Abstract:  Many analyses of important questions in labor economics use occupations as proxies for workers' labor markets. Yet workers often switch occupations, suggesting that workers' true labor markets rarely coincide with occupational boundaries. In this paper, we use a large novel dataset on occupational mobility to infer workers' job options outside their current occupation. Informed by labor market search models, we construct a measure of the value of workers' outside-occupation job options as the weighted average wage across other local occupations, weighted by occupational transition shares. We show that workers in cities with better outside-occupation job options have higher wages, and that plausibly exogenous Bartik-style shocks to the wages of workers' outside option occupations have a large, positive, and significant effect on wages in workers' own occupation. We then re-evaluate the recent literature on local labor market concentration, showing that failing to consider job options outside workers' occupations biases the estimated relationship of concentration and wages upwards and obscures important heterogeneity. We propose a measure of labor market concentration that takes into account workers' ability to change occupation and show that this measure has a stronger relationship with wages than a conventional single-occupation HHI. Overall, our work suggests that outside-occupation job options are important for workers' labor market outcomes, and that occupational mobility data provides a tractable way to incorporate them easily into labor market analyses.


Productivity and Pay: Is the Link Broken? 

Anna Stansbury and Lawrence Summers (2019)
in Facing Up To Low Productivity Growth, Peterson Institute for International Economics

Abstract: Median compensation in the U.S. has diverged starkly from labor productivity since 1973, and average compensation from productivity since 2000. In this paper, we ask: holding all else equal, to what extent does productivity growth translate into compensation growth for typical American workers?  We regress median, average, and production/nonsupervisory compensation growth on productivity growth in various specifications, finding substantial evidence of linkage between productivity and compensation. Over 1973–2016, one percentage point higher productivity growth was associated with 0.7-1 percentage points higher median and average compensation growth and with 0.4-0.7 percentage points higher production/nonsupervisory compensation growth. Further, we do not find strong evidence of co-movement between productivity growth and either the labor share or the mean/median compensation ratio. Our results tend to militate against pure technology-based theories of the productivity-compensation divergence, which would suggest that periods of higher productivity growth should also be periods of higher productivity-pay divergence. They suggest that factors orthogonal to productivity have been acting to suppress typical compensation even as productivity growth has been acting to raise it, and that faster future productivity growth is likely to boost median and average compensation growth close to one-for-one.


Central Bank Independence Revisited: After the financial crisis, what should a model central bank look like?

Ed Balls, James Howat and Anna Stansbury (2016)
Harvard Kennedy School Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government Associate Working Paper No. 67

Abstract: As central banks have acquired more powers, the trade-off between independence and accountability has become more complex and as a result, the pre-crisis academic consensus around central bank independence has broken down. We argue that a new model of central bank independence is needed.  First, we investigate the traditional case for central bank independence. Extending work from the 1980s and 1990s to the present, we show that operational independence of central banks – the ability to choose an instrument to achieve inflation goals - has been associated with significant improvements in price stability. But in advanced economies political independence – a stricter set of criteria ensuring the absence of the possibility for politicians to influence central bank goals or personnel – has not been correlated with inflationary outcomes. This suggests that central banks in advanced economies can sacrifice some political independence without undermining the operational independence that is important in both their monetary policy and financial stability functions. In light of this distinction between political and operational independence, we evaluate the new powers that advanced economy central banks have taken on over recent years,  and recommend a set of principles to guide central bank structural reform in systemic risk oversight, macroprudential policy and monetary-fiscal policy coordination.