The Workweek: A Round-Up of Labor Market Links for the Week Ending 3/24/17

This week’s labor market news on declining economy dynamism, tightening labor markets and why trucking for a living isn’t what it used to be.

Welcome back to The Workweek, the Indeed Hiring Lab’s round-up of the latest research, news, and perspectives that made us think deeply or differently about the labor market this week. It’s your guide to the most important new insights about work.

These are our picks for this week:

The Trouble With Male Unemployment

In recent decades, most advanced countries have experienced a steady decline in the rate of prime-age male employment. Welfare reform, the increasing participation of women in the labor force, technological progress, the decline of manufacturing and changes in the nature of lower skilled jobs are just some of the factors that have contributed to this global phenomenon. While we can argue whether it is possible (or even desirable) for the US and other developed countries to ever return to a prime-age male employment rate of 90 percent or more, the economic and social virtues associated with work are clear and provide a strong case for policies aimed at slowing the downward trend. (Foreign Affairs)

What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

Economists have traditionally played a prominent role in shaping public policy, even though economics as a discipline only addresses specific aspects of broader societal problems. Sociologists tend to approach the same issues from a different perspective. For example, they see unemployment not just in terms of losing wages, but also as a loss of dignity and self-respect — which could prevent those who experience it from returning to the labor force. While the lessons of sociology cannot always be translated into clear policy recommendations, they could provide policymakers with a deeper understanding of the problems facing our societies and labor markets. (NYT Upshot)  

The Changing Nature of the Firm

Sarah O’Connor revisits Ronald Coase’s classic paper “The Nature of the Firm” to ask whether recent advances in technology are diminishing the need for traditional “companies” with teams of full-time employees — or if we could even live in a world of freelancers contracted to perform specific, targeted tasks for employers. The firm has life in it yet, she argues: While technology has made it cheaper and easier to use contractors, it still makes economic sense for employers to hire a set of “core employees” who have hard-to-come-by skills and are key to the success of the business. Even so, firms are increasingly chopping up jobs into tasks that are then auctioned off to a “periphery of not-quite-employees” who are easily interchangeable. (FT)

How Tight Is the U.S. Labor Market?

Is the US labor market too tight? When compared to previous peaks the current low levels of joblessness would seem to point in this direction. However, a recent FRBSF Economic Letter argues that the headline unemployment rate may be overlooking the effects of two demographic trends which are lowering the overall jobless numbers: Fewer young workers entering the labor force and the lower propensity of women to leave employment. Once we adjust for these shifts, today’s labor market may not look quite so tight after all. (FRBSF Economic Letter)

Rural Areas’ Dependence on Doctors from Abroad

While it is well-known that the healthcare sector often relies on immigrants to fill its vacancies,  the extent to which rural America is dependent on foreign doctors to staff its hospitals and clinics is often overlooked. While around 25% of all physicians practicing or training in the United States are from abroad, in most rural areas that share is significantly higher, says The New York Times. As a result, any policy change that extends the waiting time for a visa and delays the arrival of new foreign doctors could have serious consequences for public health in the areas most dependent on them. (NYT)