DINS faculty member Morgan Frank has been awarded a Pitt Momentum seeding grant for his research on unemployment and resilience of urban workers. This research aims to analyze unemployment and resilience especially during the pandemic, and inform policies that can create effective intervention strategies. Here is a summary of this work:
Today, millions of Americans wonder about their next paycheck and the stability of their job. Although the onset of a global pandemic was unpredictable, it is surprising that labor policy seems flat-footed in today's unusual labor demands. The reason is that traditional labor economics focuses on labor markets at equilibrium, and the sudden labor disruptions brought on by COVID-related policies create a scenario that is clearly out-of-equilibrium.
Equilibrium analysis are powerful for understanding labor markets under "usual" conditions, but alternative data-driven, complexity-embracing methods are required for "unusual" scenarios, like the one experienced by Americans today. For example, traditional equilibrium models fail at forecasting employment trends in real-time (e.g. the dynamic requirements of occupations). To improve, we need new methods for characterizing and predicting the consequences of labor demands in the COVID economy. However, equilibrium models abstract skill-level processes thus obscuring key labor dynamics including skill substitution, complementarity, and opportunities for human-machine interfaces (e.g., working over Zoom). Policy makers need new tools that identify changing skill demands and, consequently, the changing availability of jobs.
In the proposed research, Dr. Frank will use an existing framework for skill complexity in labor markets to extend traditional economic job matching theory. By connecting economic theory to empirical data on workers' skills, we can econometrically study the features of labor market resilience in the COVID economy. Of particular interest, this approach grants insights into the structure of skill complementarity among the occupations, firms, and industries supported within an urban economy that determine the health and productivity of the local economy, as well as the career mobility of local workers. These insights can inform policy by identifying the workers who are isolated from their local labor market, thus becoming more likely to require unemployment benefits, and by highlighting the market structure that corresponds to economic resilience.