Employment, Earnings and Inequality


Employment, Earnings and Inequality

In October 2015, the Center hosted the conference “Employment, Earnings and Inequality: Realities and Opportunities in Low Wage Labor Markets.” This conference presented both quantitative and qualitative research on questions related to low wage labor markets, covering topics that include wage trends and shifts in occupations, policies that enhance wages, issues related to immigration, mobility, stigma and identity among low-skilled workers.

In these pages, we have gathered conference presentations with existing and new Center materials related to labor markets:

  • Audio recordings of conference presentations and panels, as well as slides
  • Policy briefs
  • Facts and figures, as well as links to outside sources, that provide a clearer picture of education in the U.S.

Central to our mission is the dissemination of poverty research. We hope you will consider these pages a useful, ongoing resource as we continue to add new work on U.S. poverty.


The Market for Low-wage Jobs

The low-wage labor market in the U.S. presents a number of challenges for workers. For many, minimum wage jobs don’t provide higher than a poverty level income. Another challenge is that many low-wage jobs come with uncertainty in scheduling and hours, which makes it difficult to get the training and education it takes to get better jobs. Learn more here about the low-wage labor market.

Policy Discussion and Q&A: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level
Ken Jacobs, University of California, Berkeley

Ken Jacobs moderates this policy discussion and Q&A on raising labor standards at the local level. Jacobs is the Chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, where he has been a Labor Specialist since 2002.

Keynote: Reflections on the Low Wage Labor Market: Facts and Policies
Paul Osterman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this Keynote presentation, Paul Osterman discusses the low-wage labor market and policies that affect low-wage workers.

Osterman is the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Professor of Human Resources and Management at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management as well as a member of the Department of Urban Planning at M.I.T. 

The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks
By Paul Beaudry, David A. Green and Benjamin M. Sand

How can we explain the low rate of employment in the U.S.? This paper documents a decline in demand for job skills since 2000 even as the supply of highly educated workers continues to grow.


The Lives of Low-wage Workers

Low-wage work in itself can affects individuals and families in different ways. It can affect relationships and how parents raise their children. In times of unexpected hardships like the recent recession, it can also create additional stress and uncertainty. Learn more here about the lives of low-wage workers. 

The Stigma of Low-Wage Work: Field- and Survey-Experimental Evidence
David Pedulla, The University of Texas at Austin

In this presentation, David Pedulla discusses his work on the stigma of low-wage work based experimental field and survey evidence. Pedulla is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and a Faculty Research Associate of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Financial Stability Improves Chances of Family Reunification
By Jennifer L. Hook, University of Southern California; Jennifer L. Romich, Maureen O. Marcenko and Ji Young Kang, University of Washington; JoAnn S. Lee, George Mason University

Children are removed from their families for different reasons, but poverty and disconnection from financial support such as employment or public benefits are associated with referrals to child welfare and children being placed outside the home. Our new research[1] suggests that efforts to minimize the negative financial impact of child placement for parents have the potential to improve both the financial lives of vulnerable families and their chances for reunification.

Video Lisa R. Pruitt

Overcoming the Challenge of Rural Poverty
Legal Scholar Lisa Prutt on Poverty

Overcoming the Challenge of Rural Poverty

In this video, legal scholar Lisa Pruitt describes how rural poverty can compound challenges for those who live far away from jobs and services that are more accessible in urban areas.


Policies that Impact Low-wage Work

Labor policies and safety net programs make a difference for low-wage workers in the U.S. Minimum wage laws ensure a minimum for earnings, and safety net programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program supplement incomes for workers who don’t earn enough to meet basic needs. Learn more here about policies that impact low-wage workers.

Video Giovanni Peri

Immigrants, Poverty and Welfare: How Do They Fare, and How Do They Affect Natives?

Immigrants, Poverty and Welfare: How Do They Fare, and How Do They Affect Natives?

This presentation features UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri discussing why immigrants from Mexico and Central America are more reliant on wages and less reliant on public safety net programs, yet are still much more likely to be poor than those born in the US.

Video Victoria Smith

A Paycheck Away from Crisis
Sociologist Victoria Smith on Poverty

A Paycheck Away from Crisis

In this video, sociologist Victoria Smith describes the challenges low-wage workers face in trying to get ahead.

Video Katherine Conger

How Economic Hardship Gets Inside the Family
Sociologist Katherine Jewsbury Conger on Poverty

How Economic Hardship Gets Inside the Family

In this video, sociologist Katherine Jewsbury Conger discusses how poverty and economic hardship impact parents and their children.