Employment Prospects for Lower Wage Workers: Easing the Implications of a Slow Recovery Conference

March 2011, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Enormous advances in technology and the changes in workplace organization that have followed them have led to major challenges for America’s workers without higher schooling or skills in demand. More open international borders—globalization—has led to the substitution of even lower paid foreign workers for U.S. workers. At the same time, demand for the services of lower skilled workers has fallen; many such workers have become unemployed or underemployed, and in the adjustment process have found themselves in lower paying jobs with few career possibilities and non-wage benefits. Others have abandoned the formal work force and coped with their declining economic fortunes in ad hoc and often unproductive ways. Wage gaps between higher and lower skilled workers have increased, because of the falling demand for less skilled workers and the failure of the nation’s higher education system to generate the more highly educated and skilled workers needed for the growing high-skill sector. The demand for food stamps and other public income supports has increased, as the eligibility for these programs has risen due to falling income. Lives have been disrupted, including the physical and mental health status of the affected workers and their families. All of this has been exacerbated by the recent deep recession, during which unemployment rates of males in their prime working years (ages 25–54) reached an all-time high.

These developments bring to the fore major public policy issues, driven by both efficiency and equity concerns. IRP is holding a one-day conference to explore these developments and to consider the potential and likely effectiveness of public policies designed to address this problem.

The conference will have presentations on the sources of this labor market polarization and the impacts of it on workers with varying types and levels of skills. Issues of technological change, job-outsourcing, the decline of trade unions, and the effect of minimum wages will be assessed. It will explore the consequences of these developments on a variety of economic and social phenomena, including the growth of wage and income inequality, the demand for public transfers, and the health and well-being of those displaced. A series of three shorter presentations is envisioned. These will focus on possible policy responses to the low-wage worker issue.

Robert Haveman, Carolyn Heinrich, and Timothy Smeeding are the conference organizers. Financial support for the conference is provided by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Employment Prospects for Lower Wage Workers: Easing the Implications of a Slow Recovery Conference
Pyle Center, Room 313
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI

Friday, March 11, 2011
8:00-8:30 am Informal Breakfast Buffet (conference convenes)
8:30-8:45 am IntroductionTimothy Smeeding, Robert Haveman, and Carolyn Heinrich, University of Wisconsin–Madison
[PowerPoint available in PDF format]
8:45-10:00 am Session One: The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S.
Moderator: Timothy Smeeding, University of Wisconsin–Madison
David Autor, MIT: “The ‘Polarization’ of U.S.Employment Demand” [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
Harry Holzer, Georgetown University: “The Future of Middle Class Jobs” [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
Discussant: Susan Houseman, W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
10:00-10:15 am Break
10:15-11:15 am General discussion from speakers and floor
11:15 am-12:15 pm Lunch Buffet (eat informally at conference room tables—discussion continues)
12:15-2:30 pm Session Two: Building the Human Capital Necessary to Succeed in the Labor Market of the Next Decade
Robert Haveman, University of Wisconsin–Madison
James Rosenbaum, Northwestern University: “Ability and Success: Do Colleges Have the Ability to Improve Student Outcomes?” [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
Sarah Turner, University of Virginia: “Do Collegiate Resources Matter? Evidence and Hypotheses” [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
Discussant: Richard Murnane, Harvard Graduate School of Education [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
2:30-2:45 pm Break
2:45-4:00 pm Session Three: Aligning Policy to Address the Problem of Lower-Wage Workers
Moderator: Carolyn Heinrich, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, American Action Forum: “Is Education Reform the Only Answer?”
Till von Wachter, Columbia University: “The Impact of Recessions on Low-Wage Workers and Policy Implications” [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
Discussant: John Karl Scholz, University of Wisconsin–Madison [PowerPoint available in PDF format]
4:00-4:15 pm Thanks and AdjournTimothy Smeeding, University of Wisconsin–Madison