Category Archives: Unemployment

After Work: Automation and Employment Law, Part Three

Source: Cynthia Estlund, OnLabor blog, August 4, 2017

Automation and Work: A Path Forward in the Face of Uncertainty
For over a century, workers and their organizations have struggled to raise labor standards and expand employee rights and benefits. Whatever the benefits to workers and the society, to any one private firm those laws represent a tax on employing human labor, and part of the calculus in decisions to contract out work or to replace people with machines. A logical though dispiriting response to plausible predictions of escalating net job losses would be to find ways to unburden the employment relationship.

There are arguments against any such response to the automation threat, and I discuss them in my paper. But they are partial and qualified. If we remain concerned (as I do) that labor and employment laws are contributing in some measure to net job losses, we would do well to consider whether it is possible to reduce the legal tax on employing human labor without undermining the quality and rewards of work for all those who work for a living in the future. The beginning of an answer lies, I believe, in separating the question of what entitlements workers (or people) should have from the question of where the attendant costs should fall…..

Related:

After Work: Automation and Employment Law, Part One
Source: Cynthia Estlund, OnLabor blog, August 1, 2017

The labor world took notice when Andy Stern emerged from a years-long deep dive into the future of work, and concluded that the future will bring a lot less work. His book, Raising the Floor, helped to spur a debate over the universal basic income (UBI), including on this blog. But the underlying issue of technology-related job loss has not yet engaged the close attention of labor and employment law scholars. That should change. Even more than firms’ flight from direct employment through fissuring, their replacement of human labor with ever more capable and cost-effective technology threatens the foundations of economic and social life, and calls for a reexamination of prevailing approaches to regulation of employment.

I recently posted a paper on SSRN about the problem of automation and job loss. Here I will take up three of its points in highly condensed form. This post will briefly review the debate on automation and job loss. The second post will discuss the role of labor costs, including those attributable to labor and employment law, in motivating firms both to automate and to contract out labor needs through “fissuring.” The third post will ask what can be done within the boundaries of labor and employment law to address the risk of impending job losses, considering the high degree of uncertainty about that risk….

After Work: Automation and Employment Law, Part Two
Source: Cynthia Estlund, OnLabor blog, August 2, 2017

Automation and Job Loss: What’s Law Got To Do With It?
The challenge of automation is in many ways continuous with the challenges of “fissured” work – to use David Weil’s influential formulation. In particular, both trends are driven in significant part by the costs and risks of employing human beings. According to investment banker Steven Berkenfeld, CEOs these days ask, “’Can I automate it? If not, can I outsource it? If not, can I give it to an independent contractor?’ Hiring an employee is the last resort.”

Part of the cost of employing humans stems from labor and employment laws. Some laws entail predictable direct costs, such as payroll taxes for social insurance programs, minimum wage and overtime laws, and the “pay or play” mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Other laws raise the cost of employing people by injecting risk, like the risk of litigation under laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Large corporate compliance departments, costing billions of dollars per year, are devoted in part to avoiding or managing these risks and liabilities…..

The Promise of the State-Federal Partnership on Workforce and Job Training

Source: National Governors Association and the National Associations of State Workforce Liaisons and State Workforce Board Chairs, 2017

Report from the National Governors Association and the National Associations of State Workforce Liaisons and State Workforce Board Chairs on the importance of strong partnership between states and the federal government on workforce development.

The labor market in the US, 2000−2016

Source: Daniel S. Hamermesh, IZA World of Labor, April 2017

Recovery from the Great Recession is essentially complete, but there are difficult unemployment and wage issues

From the blog post:
A new IZA World of Labor report looking at the US labor market (2000-2016) finds a remarkable drop in the labor force participation rate; the nearly full recovery of unemployment from the depths of the Great Recession; and the continuing growth in post-inflation average earnings while earnings inequality continues to rise.

The report by IZA Network Coordinator Dan Hamermesh (Royal Holloway, University of London) looks at the development of the American labor market since before the 2001 recession. In the aggregate the US labor market is doing quite well today. Unemployment is currently below 5%, and real weekly earnings of full-time workers increased from the 2000 cyclical peak to the current period of near full employment.
Related:
One Pager

The Closing of the Jobs Gap: A Decade of Recession and Recovery

Source: Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Ryan Nunn, Lauren Bauer, Audrey Breitwieser, Brookings Institution, Hamilton Project, Economic Analysis, August 4, 2017

From the summary:
The Great Recession caused labor market devastation on a scale not seen for many decades. Millions of jobs were lost in the United States during 2008 and 2009, leaving the labor market with a hard road to recovery. Indeed, that recovery has required many years of job growth, and it was only in April 2014 that total employment reached its pre-recession level.

However, this milestone did not mark a return to pre-recession labor market conditions. Because the U.S. population is growing, simply reaching the previous number of jobs is not sufficient to return to pre-recession employment rates. At the same time, more baby boomers have entered retirement, somewhat offsetting the effects of population growth and reducing the number of jobs needed for a full economic recovery.

In order to accurately track the progress of the labor market recovery, The Hamilton Project developed a measure of labor market health—the “jobs gap”—that reflects changes in both the level and the demographic composition of the U.S. population (more details regarding the jobs gap methodology are provided in appendix A). Beginning in May of 2010, The Hamilton Project has calculated the number of jobs needed to return to the national employment rate prior to the Great Recession, accounting for population growth and aging.

Employment, Hours, and Earnings Consequences of Job Loss: US Evidence from the Displaced Workers Survey

Source: Henry S. Farber, Journal of Labor Economics 35, no. S1, July 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Data are used from the 1984–2016 Displaced Workers Surveys (DWS) to investigate the incidence and consequences of job loss, 1981–2015. These data show a record high rate of job loss in the Great Recession, with serious employment consequences for job losers, including very low rates of re-employment and difficulty finding full-time employment. The average reduction in weekly earnings for job losers making a full-time–full-time transition are relatively small, with a substantial minority reporting earning more on their new job than on the lost job. Most of the cost of job loss comes from difficulty finding new full-time employment.

Seattle’s Minimum Wage Experience 2015-16

Source: Michael Reich, Sylvia Allegretto, and Anna Godoey, University of California – Berkeley, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED), June 2017

From the abstract:
This brief on Seattle’s minimum wage experience represents the first in a series that CWED will be issuing on the effects of the current wave of minimum wage policies—those that range from $12 to $15. Upcoming CWED reports will present similar studies of Chicago, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and New York City, among others. The timing of these reports will depend in part upon when quality data become available. We focus here on Seattle because it was one of the early movers. …. Our results show that wages in food services did increase—indicating the policy achieved its goal—and our estimates of the wage increases are in line with the lion’s share of results in previous credible minimum wage studies. Wages increased much less among full-service restaurants, indicating that employers made use of the tip credit component of the law. Employment in food service, however, was not affected, even among the limited-service restaurants, many of them franchisees, for whom the policy was most binding. These findings extend our knowledge of minimum wage effects to policies as high as $13. …

Related:
Press Release

Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle
Source: Ekaterina Jardim, Mark C. Long, Robert Plotnick, Emma van Inwegen, Jacob Vigdor, Hilary WethingNBER Working Paper No. 23532, June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper evaluates the wage, employment, and hours effects of the first and second phase-in of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, which raised the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016. Using a variety of methods to analyze employment in all sectors paying below a specified real hourly rate, we conclude that the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016. Evidence attributes more modest effects to the first wage increase. We estimate an effect of zero when analyzing employment in the restaurant industry at all wage levels, comparable to many prior studies.

Five Flaws in a New Analysis of Seattle’s Minimum Wage
Source: Rachel West, Center for American Progress, June 28, 2017

A team of faculty and students at the University of Washington was tasked with assessing how Seattle’s 2014 minimum wage ordinance, which is gradually raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, is affecting low-wage workers. This week, the group released a working paper—without peer review—that looks at the ordinance’s first two phases, under which the minimum wage for most workers increased from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and then to $13 per hour in 2016.

Methodological flaws plague the group’s approach, causing them to draw conclusions wildly out of step with dozens of studies of similarly sized wage increases cited by both critics and proponents of higher minimum wages. The vast majority of rigorous, credible studies conclude that higher minimum wages have appreciably boosted workers’ earnings with little or no effects on employment. By contrast, the University of Washington researchers conclude that higher minimum wages not only reduced employment and hours worked in Seattle, but that the costs of the wage hike outweigh the benefits for the average low-wage worker—a finding at odds with the conclusions of even the most skeptical mainstream researchers. At the same time, the study’s results suggest—implausibly and largely inexplicably—that the wage hike to $13 per hour caused substantial growth in jobs paying more than $19 per hour in the restaurant industry. That’s just one of several questionable results that should give readers serious pause…..

Seat­tle and the (Method­ol­ogy of the) Eco­nom­ics of Min­i­mum Wage
Source: Ben­jamin Sachs, OnLabor blog, June 26, 2017

….Noam Scheiber also has a good story on the UW pa­per which lays out a cri­tique worth men­tion­ing here. In sum, the em­ploy­ment ef­fects iden­ti­fied by the UW study might be due, not to Seat­tle’s min­i­mum wage in­crease, but to a boom­ing job mar­ket in which high-wage jobs are re­plac­ing low-wage jobs. On this the­ory, the em­ploy­ment “losses” in the low-wage sec­tor that the UW study re­ports would ac­tu­ally just be peo­ple mov­ing from low- to high-wage em­ploy­ment. …

How a Rising Minimum Wage Affects Jobs in Seattle
Source: Norm Scheiber, New York Times, June 26, 2017

Seat­tle and the Eco­nom­ics of Min­i­mum Wage
Source: Ben­jamin Sachs, OnLabor blog, June 26, 2017

….There are, as al­ways, caveats. First, the Wash­ing­ton pa­per has yet to be sub­ject to peer re­view – it was re­leased on­line as an NBER work­ing pa­per. Sec­ond, an­other re­cent study – this one from Berke­ley – found that the Seat­tle or­di­nance “raises pay with­out cost­ing jobs.” As FiveThir­tyEight also re­ports, the Berke­ley study fo­cused ex­clu­sively on the fast food in­dus­try, and the Wash­ing­ton study it­self found no em­ploy­ment ef­fects of the min­i­mum wage hike on the restau­rant in­dus­try. One pos­si­bil­ity, then, is that the Wash­ing­ton study’s broader fo­cus is pick­ing up ef­fects that are missed by the (more tra­di­tional) fo­cus on the restau­rant in­dus­try. Many econ­o­mists, in­clud­ing Jared Bern­stein, how­ever, de­fend the method­olog­i­cal de­ci­sion to fo­cus a min­i­mum wage study on restau­rants. There are also, as al­ways, ad­di­tional method­olog­i­cal crit­i­cisms of the Wash­ing­ton study. (EPI has a press re­lease and pa­per that iden­ti­fies a num­ber of these con­cerns.)

Then there is an im­por­tant caveat in the other di­rec­tion: Seat­tle might be a city in the best po­si­tion to ab­sorb min­i­mum wage in­creases, which means – if the Wash­ing­ton study is right – that the em­ploy­ment ef­fects could be even stronger else­where. ….

The “high road” Seattle labor market and the effects of the minimum wage increase – Data limitations and methodological problems bias new analysis of Seattle’s minimum wage increase
Source: Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt, Economic Policy Institute, June 26, 2017

From the summary:
A team of researchers at the University of Washington has released an analysis of the economic impacts of the 2015 and 2016 increases in the Seattle minimum wage. The study, Jardim et al. (2017), looks at the first two stages of a phased-in set of increases that will eventually take the minimum wage in the city to $15.00 per hour. The authors of the study argue that they find large job losses associated with these first two rounds of increases, in which the minimum wage for most workers rose from $9.47 per hour to $11.00 per hour in April 2015 and then to $13.00 per hour in January 2016.

The authors’ analysis, however, suffers from a number of data and methodological problems that bias the study in the direction of finding job loss, even where there may have been no job loss at all. One initial indicator of these problems is that the estimated employment losses in the Seattle study lie far outside even those generally suggested by mainstream critics of the minimum wage (see, for example, Neumark and Wascher [2008])—as the authors themselves acknowledge.

In this report, we describe the most important shortcomings in the new analysis and make suggestions for how the researchers can attempt to correct for these problems in future iterations of their long-term study of the Seattle minimum wage.
See also: press release

What we know and don’t know about declining labor force participation: A review

Source: Eleanor Krause and Isabel V. Sawhill, Brookings Institution, May 2017

From the summary:

For decades, the portion of prime-age men (ages 25 to 54) in the labor force has been in decline. More recently, the labor force participation rate of prime-age women has stagnated and also declined. This paper addresses the consequences of, and reasons for, these declines, especially among men. A subsequent effort will address appropriate policy responses.

Women’s increasing workforce participation through the late 1990s largely masked the precipitous decline in male participation rates. Men’s rates have fallen about 8 percentage points over the past 60 years. On both fronts, the U.S. is also falling behind other advanced economies. U.S. prime-age female participation fell from 6th to 17th of 22 OECD member countries between 1990 and 2010. Over the same period, the decline in the prime-age male participation rate was the second most severe of the OECD countries, and is now the third lowest among the 34 member countries. The U.S. trends are particularly pronounced for non-Hispanic black men and less-skilled adults. There is now an 11 percentage point gap in participation rates between men with a college degree and those with a high school degree or less—whereas 50 years ago, the two rates were very similar.

Explanations for these trends tend to focus either on the demand for workers or the supply of labor. Trade and technology have reduced the demand for certain types of work, particularly less-skilled labor in fields like manufacturing. Of the two, most economists believe that automation has played the larger role. Manufacturing’s share of GDP has remained relatively stable but, thanks in part to productivity improvements, the sector now employs only two-thirds as many people as it did 30 years ago. Technological change has widened the wage gap between skill levels. While a man with a high school degree earned about three-quarters of the wages of his college-educated counterpart in 1980, he now earns about half as much. At the same time that technology has made certain jobs obsolete, new jobs are being created in other areas (both high-wage managerial and technical jobs and low-wage service sector jobs), but these new jobs often require different skills or pay lower wages…..

The Employment Service-Unemployment Insurance Partnership: Origin, Evolution, and Revitalization

Source: David E. Balducchi, Christopher J. O’Leary, W.E. Upjohn Institute, Upjohn Institute working paper ; 17-269, 2017

From the abstract:
This study traces the origin and evolution of the partnership between the employment service and unemployment insurance programs in the United States. We examine objectives of the framers of the Wagner-Peyser and Social Security Acts that established these programs. Using primary sources, we then analyze early actions of the architects of social insurance to facilitate cooperation between the two programs to meet economic exigencies, grapple with political cronyism, and surmount legal barriers. We also discuss factors that caused changes in the employment service–unemployment insurance partnership over time. We identify reasons for the erosion in cooperation starting in the 1980s, and explain why ever since there has been a continuous decline in service availability. Reviewing evidence on the effectiveness of in-person employment services for unemployment insurance beneficiaries, we suggest ways to revitalize the employment service–unemployment insurance partnership. We explore the source of Wagner-Peyser Act funding, how it was formalized, then eroded, and how it can be renewed.

235,000 Job Growth in February Is Good News for the Economy, But State and Local Government Job Growth Remains Weak

Source: Lucy Dadayan, Donald J. Boyd, Rockefeller Institute of Government, By The Numbers, March 2017

• Nationally, state and local government employment is 1.5 percent below its prior peak, while private sector employment is 6.4 percent above its prior peak.
• State government employment nationally is 2.5 percent below its peak level and local government employment is 1.3 percent below its peak level.
• State government non-education employment, for services such as corrections, hospitals and other health care, public welfare, and highways, has fared the worst among the government subsectors —- currently, 5.5 percent below its peak even though the population has grown 6.9 percent over the same period.
• Local government education and non-education employment are 2.0 percent and 0.8 percent below their respective prior peaks, while elementary and secondary enrollment has risen by more than 2.0 percent during the same period.
• The only subsector that has grown is state government education employment for universities, colleges, and similar services; here employment is up 1.2 percent above the prior peak, but still far weaker than in previous economic recoveries.
• Although state and local government employment did not decline as much during the Great Recession as private sector employment, it has been recovering far more slowly and has regained the jobs lost to the Great Recession.