There has been tremendous focus in recent years on the plight of the typical American worker. In this economic analysis, The Hamilton Project takes a careful look at the data to examine what has been happening to America’s workers since 1990, paying particular interest to differences across workers with different levels of education. In addition, an accompanying interactive feature allows users to further explore these eight profiles by comparing employment, occupational, and earnings patterns between 1990 and 2013.
Order by: Date, Title
Scholars and public commentators have recently debated the impact of education on earnings and earnings inequality. Some have argued that improving education is not the sole solution to inequality. In this economic analysis, Brad Hershbein, Melissa Kearney and Lawrence H. Summers clarify the different elemnts of the public debate and note explicitly that these positions are not necessarily at odds.
In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama emphasized the need to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American: especially low- and middle-income citizens. The Hamilton Project highlights policy proposals that are most relevant to the goals and ideas explicitly promoted in the speech and reflective of the current policy context. These proposals offer smart, actionable ways forward on each of the particular policy goals.
In a new interactive feature and economic analysis, The Hamilton Project explores how the current student loan repayment system often creates a heavy burden on recent graduates by having them make payments in the beginning of their careers when their earnings are low. The accompanying interactive feature allows users to calculate the share of earnings necessary to service traditional loan repayment for 80 college majors.
The importance of a college education for the advancement of one’s life and career has been widely reported. However, there is much speculation about the likely trajectory of one’s lifetime earnings once they’ve chosen a major program to study. To accompany a new interactive feature, The Hamilton Project explores the evidence behind career earnings by college major In this economic analysis.
At the start of a new school year, The Hamilton Project highlights an array of policy proposals, economic facts, and economic analyses articulating the importance of education for the advancement and prosperity of Americans.
In this policy memo, Sheena McConnell, Irma Perez-Johnson, and Jillian Berk offer proposals to help disadvantaged adult workers with the skills necessary to succeed in the labor market. The authors call for an increase in funding in the Workforce Investment Act Adult program. They also propose a series of four steps that state and local workforce boards can take to better assist disadvantaged adult workers in obtaining skills. This proposal is chapter nine of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Building Skills.
In this policy memo, Harry J. Holzer proposes the creation of financial incentives for public colleges and university systems to offer classes in high-return fields and for employers to offer more training to their employees. This proposal, targeted at disadvantaged youth who have some academic preparation for higher education, aims to generate better labor market outcomes and wage gains. This proposal is chapter eight of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Building Skills.
In this policy memo, Robert I. Lerman proposes a series of targeted federal and state-level initiatives to expand access to registered apprenticeship programs by creating marketing initiatives, building on existing youth apprenticeship programs, extending the use of federal subsidies, and designating occupational standards. This proposal, targeted toward at-risk youth and middle-skill adults in low-wage jobs, aims to improve human capital and raise earnings for apprentices. This proposal is chapter seven of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Building Skills.
In this policy memo, Bridget Terry Long proposes that school districts, community colleges, university systems, and state and federal governments reform the college remediation system by improving placement in remediation classes, providing better remediation services, and adopting measures to prevent the need for remediation. This proposal, targeted at disadvantaged, academically underprepared students in high school and college, aims to reduce the need for college-level remediation and to better match underprepared students with effective resources to equip them with the skills they need to succeed in college and in the workforce. This proposal is chapter six of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Supporting Disadvantaged Youth.
In this policy memo, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Jacob Leos-Urbel propose that the U.S. Department of Labor distribute federal grants to states for municipalities to provide summer employment to disadvantaged youth, first through a pilot program and then through a nationwide expansion. This proposal, targeted at low-income youth who are enrolled in or have recently graduated from high school, aims to increase school attendance, improve educational outcomes, and reduce violent behavior and crime. This proposal is chapter five of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Supporting Disadvantaged Youth.
In this policy memo, Phillip B. Levine proposes that nongovernmental organizations—including nonprofits, foundations, and charitable organizations—as well as private-sector entities expand community-based mentoring programs, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, in accordance with a set of best practices. This proposal, targeted at disadvantaged youth who have few or no adult role models in their lives, aims to improve educational and labor market outcomes for disadvantaged youth. This proposal is chapter four of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Supporting Disadvantaged Youth.
In this policy memo, Isabel Sawhill and Joanna Venator propose that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs, in conjunction with state governments, reduce unintended pregnancies through a social marketing campaign to encourage more young women to use long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). This proposal, targeted at unmarried women between the ages of 15 and 30, aims to expand awareness so more low-income women use a LARC or other method of contraception, thereby reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and lowering the number of children born into poverty. This proposal is chapter three of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Promoting Early Childhood Development.
In this policy memo, Ariel Kalil proposes that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families create a task force supporting the collection of evidence to develop more-effective parenting interventions and to promote improved child development in early years. This proposal, targeted at low-income families with young children, will collect evidence on successful parenting interventions for young children through rigorous experiments, and will develop new interventions that are lower-cost and better-matched to families’ needs. This proposal is chapter two of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Promoting Early Childhood Development.
In this policy memo, Elizabeth U. Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach propose a framework for state and local governments calling for the establishment of high-quality programs in areas where preschool programs do not exist, improved preschool quality in states and localities with subpar programs, and expanded access in areas where high-quality programs already exist. This proposal aims to reduce the income-based gap in school readiness between disadvantaged and higher-income preschool-aged children, and to improve school outcomes for disadvantaged preschool children. This proposal is chapter one of The Hamilton Project’s Policies to Address Poverty in America, and a segment in Promoting Early Childhood Development.
The introduction to The Hamilton Project’s new volume, Policies to Address Poverty in America, presents an overview of America’s poverty crisis, and makes the case for why poverty belongs on the national policy agenda. The introduction also frames the 14 policy proposals that are part of the volume, and the particular aspects of poverty they address. The proposals fall into four general categories: promoting early childhood development, supporting disadvantaged youth, building skills, and improving safety net and work support.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke of a “breakthrough year for America” and foreshadowed a “year of action.” He focused on ways to expand opportunities for Americans by enhancing employment and education options for low-and middle-income citizens, developing more robust worker training programs, investing in America through infrastructure investments and energy innovation, the importance of making progress on immigration reform, and more. Since its launch in 2006, The Hamilton Project has released a range of targeted policy proposals that provide innovative, evidence-based approaches to addressing many of the policy priorities set forth in the Presidents address.
On January 16, President Obama hosted college and university presidents from around the country for a summit to discuss new approaches for promoting college access, with a focus on reaching low-income students. The Hamilton Project has produced significant work highlighting the importance of higher education for economic mobility, in addition to a series of papers by outside experts on improving college access and affordability. A menu of Hamilton Project work on this topic is included for easy reference.
The lack of clear information about the widening gap in perceived and actual costs of college can act as an impediment in students' decision-making process. In his new Hamilton Project proposal, Phillip Levine proposes a way to simplify and improve the transparency of college cost estimates based on a pilot program currently underway at Wellesley College.
The current federal student lending system requires students to repay loans during the first decade after college, when their incomes are relatively low and variable. In a new Hamilton Project paper, the University of Michigan's Susan Dynarski and Daniel Kreisman propose a strategy to improve student lending through the adoption of an income-contingent repayment plan.
The structure of the Pell Grant program has remained fundamentally unchanged since its inception in 1972. In this discussion paper, Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute and The George Washington University and Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University propose three major structural reforms to fit the needs of a twenty-first-century economy and student population.
On October 21st, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum focusing on the evolving role of higher education in American society and released three new policy proposals by outside experts on how changes in student lending and financial-aid policies can help improve college outcomes. Key findings from each of the papers are outlined here.
For many Americans, the high cost of higher education provides a substantial barrier to college entry and ultimate completion. In this economic analysis, The Hamilton Project provides a snapshot of today’s higher education student, illustrating how the current generation of students are older and more financially independent than in the past, and highlights three forthcoming Hamilton Project papers that address the complicated landscape of higher education financing through innovative policy proposals.
Despite the positive return to higher education, many Americans are concerned about their ability to pay for college, and there is increasing focus on the rising burden of student loans on recent graduates. Although average net tuition—the actual cost to students after grant aid, scholarships, and other financial aid—has increased somewhat over the last two decades, the volume of student debt has increased far more dramatically, as has the default rate on student loans. In this month’s employment analysis, The Hamilton Project examines possible explanations for the recent increases in student debt and default rates.
Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project
In a discussion paper for The Hamilton Project, Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia present a strategy for improving college outcomes for high-achieving, low-income students. Building on previous research showing that most high-achieving, low-income students do not even apply to selective colleges, Hoxby and Turner propose expanding a recently piloted informational intervention called the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) Project.
In this policy memo, The Hamilton Project examines the relationship between growing income inequality and social mobility in America. The memo explores the growing gap in educational opportunities and outcomes for students based on family income and the great potential of education to increase upward mobility for all Americans.
The role of education in improving social mobility is well-known, and new evidence identifies promising ways to help more low-income students improve their educational opportunities. In a new blog post, The Hamilton Project compares a range of interventions aimed at boosting college attendance and completion among low-income students.
In recent years there has been increasing concern about students who begin two- and four-year college programs but fail to complete a degree—particularly in light of the large increase in student debt and concerns about the high costs of college. In this month’s employment analysis, The Hamilton Project examines whether starting college is worth it for students who fail to complete a degree. The findings show that students who complete “some college” earn about $100,000 more throughout their lifetime than their peers with only a high school education, and the rate of return to their investment exceeds the historical return on practically any conventional investment, including stocks, bonds, and real estate.
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined an ambitious second-term agenda focusing on policies to help strengthen America’s middle class through broad-based economic growth. Since its launch in 2006, The Hamilton Project has released a range of targeted policy proposals that provide innovative, evidence-based approaches to address many of the priorities set forth in this year’s address, which we offer as a resource to policymakers in response to specific ideas mentioned by the President this week.
The Winter issue of Issues in Science and Technology highlights a Hamilton Project discussion paper in which Philip Oreopoulos and Derek Messacar of the University of Toronto present a strategy for reducing the dropout rate that would raise the compulsory schooling age to 18, and also combines stricter and better-enforced school-attendance laws with programs that have been statistically proven to prevent disengagement among at-risk students.
The stagnation of wages in recent years has many causes, but reflects a failure to invest enough in the skills and productivity of the American workforce, Hamilton Project Director Michael Greenstone and Policy Director Adam Looney write in the New York Times' Economix.
There is ongoing debate about the rising cost of college and whether that investment is still worthwhile in today’s economy. In this month’s employment analysis, The Hamilton Project examines the rising cost of college over the last 30 years and finds that while college costs are growing, the increase in earnings one receives from a college degree—and, by extension, the cost of not going to college—are growing even faster.
The Hamilton Project explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.
Because many successful charter schools represent a radical departure from traditional public schools, they often embody a black box to educational reformers. Roland Fryer of Harvard demonstrates how preliminary results in Houston and Denver public schools provide a path forward for applying effective charter school methods in traditional public schools.
Philip Oreopoulos of the University of Toronto presents a strategy for reducing the dropout rate through a carrot-and-stick approach starts with raising the compulsory schooling age to 18, and also combines stricter and better-enforced school-attendance laws with programs that have been statistically proven to prevent disengagement among at-risk students.
Education technologies hold promise for personalized learning and for building basic skills, but a fundamental obstacle remains: the effectiveness of learning technologies is rarely known. Building on the Common Core State Standards and increasing access to broadband internet, Aaron K. Chatterji of Duke University and Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University propose the establishment of a new third-party ratings organization to overcome this challenge.
Although innovation has revolutionized the American economy as a whole over the last century, the education sector has benefitted relatively little from these advances.In a forthcoming paper, The Hamilton Project compares the nation’s total expenditures on research and development by sector and finds spending on education lags behind other areas such as pharmaceuticals and medicine.
Is it enough to find a job, or should we be more focused on the quality of that job? There may be a range of perspectives on the best way to move our economy forward, but one element essential to any answer is education. The Hamilton Project examines the effects of education on income level and shows more education opens the gateway to better, higher-paying jobs.
The Hamilton Project examines the short- and long-run impacts of public-sector job cuts since the Great Recession. If the share of government employment to population had remained at historical levels, the unemployment rate would be approximately 7.1 percent.
Last night, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, putting forth his policy agenda to the 112th Congress on issues. Since its launch in 2006, The Hamilton Project has developed targeted policy proposals that touch on many of these areas, which we offer as a resource to policymakers in response to specific ideas mentioned by the President last evening.
Building America’s Job Skills with Effective Workforce Programs: A Training Strategy to Raise Wages and Increase Work Opportunities
Amid the Great Recession and rapid technological changes, both workers with less education and workers who have been displaced from long-tenured jobs face challenges because they lack the particular skills that employers demand for good-paying jobs. In a new Hamilton Project strategy paper, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney address the importance of developing workers’ skills through training and workforce development programs, and examine newly available evidence on policies that boost job opportunities and wages.
Raising Job Quality and Skills for American Workers: Creating More-Effective Education and Workforce Development Systems in the States
Less educated workers often experience prolonged periods of unemployment and stagnating wages because they lack the skills necessary to compete in a global economy. In a new Hamilton Project paper, Harry J. Holzer proposes a set of competitive grants to fund education, training, and career counseling initiatives that feature private sector connections based on the experience of existing successful workforce development programs.
After being displaced from long-tenured jobs, workers often experience persistent, significant earnings losses. New research suggests that retraining in certain “high-return” fields can substantially reduce these losses. In a new Hamilton Project paper, Louis S. Jacobson, Robert J. LaLonde and Daniel G. Sullivan propose the establishment of a Displaced Worker Training (DWT) Program to distribute grants to displaced workers so they can obtain longer-term training to substantially increase their earnings. The DWT Program would also leverage the nation’s One-Stop Career Centers to assess and counsel grantees.
For decades, education has boosted U.S. productivity and earnings, forged a path out of poverty for many families, helped disadvantaged students narrow the learning gap with their peers, and developed a workforce that continues to be among the most productive and innovative on Earth. However, in recent years educational attainment and performance have stagnated. In this strategy paper, The Hamilton Project provides a dual-track approach to improving educational outcomes for K-12 students by addressing structural barriers and implementing short-term cost-effective reforms to improve student performance.
Recent incentive programs demonstrate that well-designed rewards to students can improve student achievement at relatively low costs. Bradley M. Allan and Roland G. Fryer draw on field experiments to propose a set of guidelines to design a successful education incentive program. Those guidelines include paying students to perform tasks that will lead to better academic performance rather than paying them for grades and test scores alone.
Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments
While education reform is often focused on dramatic changes, Brian A. Jacob and Jonah E. Rockoff suggest that implementing managerial reforms and making sure the “trains run on time” can substantially increase student learning at modest cost. Jacob and Rockoff propose three organizational reforms to improve student performance at moderate cost: 1) Starting school later in the day for middle and high school students; 2) Shifting from separate to elementary and middle schools to K-8; 3) allow teachers to teach the same grade level for multiple years or having teachers specializing in the subject where they appear most effective.
In recent years, efforts to hold teachers and schools accountable for student test scores have increased as part of an attempt to increase student achievement by raising teacher effectiveness and bringing up the performance of low-performing schools. Derek Neal proposes improved assessments and accountability systems through two distinct examinations: one traditional test to track educational achievement over time, and a new examination to evaluate teacher performance.
America's workforce needs a strong eduction system to compete and research demonstrates the power of a good teacher to boost student achievement. However, hiring and retaining effective teachers has become difficult, partly due to compensation. In a new policy memo, The Hamilton Project explores the relative salary declines of teachers during the last four decades when compared to other professions.
Is college a worthwhile investment? Hamilton Project Director Michael Greenstone and Policy Director Adam Looney compare the value of a college degree to other investment options and find higher education provides, by far, the greatest rate of return.
How Do Recent College Grads Really Stack Up? Employment and Earnings for Graduates of the Great Recession
As the job market continues to struggle, there has been much debate about whether a college education has been worth the investment for recent graduates. Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney examine whether recent college graduates are better off, in terms of employment and earnings, than their counterparts who did not invest in a degree.
Investing in the Future: An Economic Strategy for State and Local Governments in a Period of Tight Budgets
Confronting near-term budget challenges, state and local governments are under tremendous pressure to focus on immediate needs at the expense of long-term investments. Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney highlight four policy principles for state and local governments with an emphasis on the importance of infrastructure investments for economic growth and prosperity.
The January employment numbers, released today by the U.S. Department of Labor, present mixed evidence about the state of the labor market. While the unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent, payrolls were just better than flat, increasing by only 36,000 jobs last month. Much attention is given to the official unemployment rate, which is certainly an important indicator of our employment situation. But, in fact, the unemployment rate tends to understate the severity of the challenge for American workers in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Potential students and their families must navigate a labyrinth of incomplete and uncertain information when deciding where to go to college, what to study, or what career to pursue, resulting in an array of poor choices being made every day. This proposal calls for the federal government to expand the types of information that are available and allow users to compare indicators like cost, financial aid, student debt, employment outcomes, and average salaries following graduation, across peer institutions.
Robert LaLonde of the University of Chicago and Daniel Sullivan of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago suggest that retraining through our nation’s community colleges is a way to reduce the skills gaps of at least some of these displaced workers and increase their reemployment earnings.
May employment numbers, released by the Labor Department today, demonstrate continued momentum behind our nation’s economic recovery. With 431,000 new jobs, building on the 290,000 jobs created in April, this marks the first time we’ve had five consecutive months of positive job growth since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007.
Although the federal government dedicated nearly $40 billion to funding student loans in 2006, only 60 percent of potential students from low-income families attend college, compared with 90 percent from high-income families. This paper argues that enrollment rates are lower than they could be because potential students undervalue loan subsidies, which are delivered after graduation instead of up front when a student enrolls and incurs costs.
The payoff to a college education has increased dramatically over the last two decades. At the same time, the cost of a college education has increased steeply. To provide all Americans with the opportunity to share in the prosperity of the knowledge-based economy, those high-school graduates who are prepared to benefit from college must have access to the financial resources needed to pursue their education.
To better secure the benefits of education, this paper outlines an evidence-based education strategy that emphasizes new investments in some areas (such as early education) and structural reforms in others (such as the teacher tenure system).
The absence of a quality early education for many disadvantaged children represents an extraordinary waste of human potential. This paper outlines a model for helping such children achieve success through an intensive early education program.
This paper analyzes the federal student aid system and finds that the level of complexity makes it ineffective at increasing college enrollment. The paper then outlines a simplified system to address this issue.
Investing in the Best and Brightest: Increased Fellowship Support for American Scientists and Engineers
Richard Freeman discusses the National Science Foundation fellowship policy. He argues that current U.S. NSF fellowship policy gives less of an incentive for students to enter science and engineering than in earlier periods.
Even in early grades, a large skill gap exists between students from economically advantaged and disadvantaged families. This paper outlines a program based on evidence from studies of summer programs which will provide scholarships for economically disadvantaged children.
This paper outlines a program of federal support to help states measure the effectiveness of individual teachers. Teachers who receive good evaluations would be offered bonuses if they were willing to teach in high-poverty schools.
Browse Our Papers
Hamilton Project Updates
A periodic newsletter of events, policy briefs, and working papers from The Hamilton Project.