Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

Archive for the ‘Labor market’ Category

Contract workers: Who’s the boss?

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Courts and regulators turn the screws on firms that use irregular workers

September 4, 2014

FEDEX, Walmart and McDonald’s are among America’s largest employers. Yet many of the people who drive FedEx’s delivery trucks, staff Walmart’s warehouses and serve McDonald’s hamburgers are not their employees. Instead, they work for subcontractors, franchisees or themselves.

Flexible work arrangements have long been a hallmark of America’s ever-shifting economy. Lately, though, they have drawn more criticism. Earlier this year David Weil of Boston University published “The Fissured Workplace”, which argues that many employers have met competitive pressures by splitting off functions to subcontractors, vendors and franchisees, where workers’ wages and benefits stagnate. On September 3rd the OECD, a club of rich countries, fretted that a divide is opening between secure, permanent jobs and insecure, ill-paid temporary ones. Read the rest of this entry »


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September 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

Posted in Labor market

Free exchange: Fluid dynamics

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America’s famously flexible labour market is becoming less so

Aug 30th 2014 | From the print edition

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August 30, 2014 at 9:11 am

Bandwagon behaviour: Why missing out on one job application is bad news for your chances in the next

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Jul 20th 2013 |From the print edition

[Greg Ip] A TRULY informed diner would choose a restaurant based on the quality of the menu and the chef’s experience. The discerning investor would decide which company to back after studying the business plan and meeting the founders. In reality, people often copy the choices of others. Diners pick the crowded restaurant over the empty one. Investors go with the company that already has multiple backers.

Such bandwagon effects are not necessarily irrational. Often, the buyer knows less about a product than the seller; the collective wisdom of the crowd can correct for such “asymmetric information”. It can also be a way of coping with a surplus of choice: rather than study 100 models of music player, why not assume the market has already figured out the duds?
The existence of bandwagon behaviour can be hard to prove. A product or an asset usually becomes popular (or unpopular) in the first place because it is genuinely superior (or inferior). But some have tried to isolate the self-fulfilling effects of popularity. One 2004 study* by Alan Sorensen, now of the University of Wisconsin, examined accidental omissions from the New York Times bestseller list. By comparing the sales of books that did make the list and unlisted books that should have, the author could isolate the effect of inclusion—a modest boost to first-time authors’ sales. In a 2008 study by Matthew Salganik of Princeton University and Duncan Watts, now at Microsoft Research, participants tricked into believing a song was more popular than it actually was were more likely to download it.

Scholars are now asking whether herd behaviour also prevails in labour markets. Read the rest of this entry »

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July 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Where did everyone go?

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Demography may explain the weakness of America’s recovery

Mar 23rd 2013 |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] MILTON FRIEDMAN once compared the business cycle to an elastic string stretched on a board. How far the string is plucked determines how much it springs back; similarly, the depth of a recession decides the strength of recovery. America’s recent experience has not been kind to the plucking model. Although the recession was the deepest since the second world war, the recovery has been a disappointment. In the three years since the end of the recession in mid-2009, growth averaged 2.2%, barely half the 4.2% average of the seven previous recoveries.

In part, this is because recoveries from financial crises face greater difficulties. Consumers are too much in debt; businesses cannot or will not spend; a damaged banking system stifles credit. But in its annual economic report, issued on March 15th, Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers argues that this is not the whole story. The plucking model presumes that after a recession, the economy returns to an underlying trend rate of growth that is determined by the supply of workers, capital and technology. Mr Obama’s economists argue that the trend is now much lower than in the past. The recovery, then, is not nearly as disappointing as it is often portrayed; Americans have set their sights too high.
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March 21, 2013 at 9:36 am

Raising the minimum wage: Trickle-up economics

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The president proposes a hefty increase in the minimum wage

Feb 16th 2013 | WASHINGTON, DC |From the print edition

[Greg Ip] BARACK OBAMA has long made income inequality a central theme of his second-term agenda. He has already tackled inequality from the top by preserving tax cuts for everyone but the rich. In his address to Congress on February 12th, he dealt with it from below, proposing to raise the federal minimum wage by 24%, benefiting, so the White House claimed, 15m low-wage workers.

America’s minimum wage has long been low by international standards, equalling just 38% of the median wage in 2011, close to the lowest in the OECD (see chart). Congress changes it only occasionally, and in the interim inflation eats away its value. The wage was last raised, to $7.25 per hour, in 2009. Since then its real value has slipped back to where it was in 1998. Twenty states now have minimum wages above the federal rate, compared to 15 in 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.

Mr Obama’s proposal would boost the nominal wage to $9 per hour by 2015, restoring it, in real terms, to its 1979 level, though relative to median wages it would still be lower than in many other rich countries. Thereafter, it would be indexed to inflation. He would also raise the minimum wage for workers who receive tips for the first time in over 20 years.

The proposal drew the predicted response: labour and liberal groups said it would reduce poverty and raise the spending power of the poorest workers, while businesses and Republicans (whose co-operation is needed if the proposal is to become law) said it would cost low-skilled workers jobs.
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February 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

America’s jobs numbers: A steady pulse

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Dec 7th 2012, 16:57 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, DC

AMERICA’S jobs numbers are less freighted with political significance now that the election is over, but they’re still an important measure of the economy’s pulse. The numbers released on November 7th show that the pulse is steady: employment growth remains moderate and unemployment continues to fall faster than the economy’s strength can explain.

Non-farm payrolls rose last month by 146,000. Wall Street had expected only half that number because of the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which struck at the end of October, just before the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed employers and households. But the BLS said, “Our analysis suggests that Hurricane Sandy did not substantively impact the national employment and unemployment estimates.” Nevertheless, payrolls in both September and October were revised down, by a combined 49,000. Read the rest of this entry »

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December 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Social media and job titles: A pixelated portrait of labour

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Mar 10th 2012 | WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition

 OFFICIAL statistics can tell you how many workers were jobless last month, how many had college degrees and how many worked in construction. But they cannot tell you how many know Hadoop, a software for managing data that is much in demand these days.LinkedIn, however, says it knows that, and much else gleaned from the profiles of its millions of members. The social-media website for professionals can tell you that one of the fastest-growing job titles in America is “adjunct professor” (an ill-paid, overworked species of academic). One of the fastest-shrinking is “sales associate” (see chart).

Researchers already mine the internet for hints about disease outbreaks, the national mood or inflation. LinkedIn thinks its data can do the same for the job market. It has more than 150m members worldwide, 60m of them in America. That should be enough to draw accurate inferences about the entire American labour force.

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March 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Labor market