Employment & Wages

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America’s greatest economic resource lies in the skill and energy of its workforce, yet the productivity gains of recent decades have not translated into rising incomes for many working families. While incomes have increased by nearly 400 percent for the top 0.1 percent of Americans over the last forty years, annual earnings of the median American male have declined by 28 percent. This trajectory of unbalanced income growth has eroded middle-class living standards, restricted opportunities for lower-income households, and undermined the nation’s social fabric. The Hamilton Project explores innovative proposals that help create jobs, enhance productivity, and secure the promise of the American Dream that each generation can achieve more than the last.


Related to Employment & Wages

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The Hamilton Project Policy Response to the 2014 State of the Union Address

Papers • January 2014

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.

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The “Ripple Effect” of a Minimum Wage Increase on American Workers

Papers • January 2014 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

In this month’s Hamilton Project employment analysis, we consider the “ripple effects” of a minimum wage increase on near-minimum wage workers, finding that a minimum wage increase could benefit up to 35 million workers.

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The Importance of Unemployment Insurance for American Families & the Economy: Take 2

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

In the absence of congressional action to extend unemployment insurance, 1.3 million Americans will immediately lose their benefits on December 28th. In this month’s employment analysis, The Hamilton Project reexamines unemployment insurance and highlights evidence suggesting that extended benefits provide a sizable boost for workers and the economy.

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A Dozen Facts about America’s Struggling Lower-Middle Class

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

These economic facts focus on two key challenges facing lower-middle-class families: food insecurity and the low return to work for families who lose tax and transfer benefits as their earnings increase.

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Giving Secondary Earners a Tax Break: A Proposal to Help Low- and Middle-Income Families

Papers • December 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Lesley Turner

The current tax system hampers low- and middle-income families who add secondary earners to the workforce to augment their primary breadwinner’s income. In a new Hamilton Project discussion paper, Melissa Kearney and Lesley Turner propose a secondary earner tax deduction that would help make work pay for dual-earner families.

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Strengthening SNAP for a More Food-Secure, Healthy America

Papers • December 2013 • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the Food Stamp Program—is an essential part of America’s social safety net. In a new Hamilton Project discussion paper, Diane Schanzenbach proposes five reforms that could strengthen SNAP, including incentives for participants to purchase healthier foods and improvements to the benefit formula.

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Simplifying Estimates of College Costs

Papers • October 2013 • Phillip Levine

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. 

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Loans for Educational Opportunity: Making Borrowing Work for Today’s Students

Papers • October 2013 • Susan M. Dynarski, Daniel Kreisman

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.

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Improving College Outcomes: Key Findings

Papers • October 2013

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.

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Higher Education Today: Innovative Approaches for College Financing

Papers • October 2013 • Melissa S. Kearney, Benjamin H. Harris

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.

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Evolution of the “Jobs Gap” and Possible Scenarios for Growth

April 4, 2014 • Charts

The Hamilton Project tracks the monthly “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month.

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State-by-State “Jobs Gap”

April 3, 2014 • Charts

Every month, The Hamilton Project tracks the “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month. Here, the Project compares changes in employment levels since the onset of the Great Recession across states.

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Minimum Wage and Share of Workers Earning Equal to or Less Than 150 Percent of the Minimum Wage in 2012, by State

January 10, 2014 • Charts

Every state in the country has a substantial share of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the minimum wage. In 2012, Montana had the highest share of workers—37.2 percent—with wages equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage. Even in Alaska, which boasts higher wages compared to the rest of the country, 16.9 percent of workers had wages equal to or lower than 150 percent of the minimum. Not surprisingly, the 18 states with a higher minimum wage level than the federal benchmark tended to have higher shares of workers with wages within 150 percent of the minimum wage. However, in every state in the country, at least one in six workers had wages that were equal to 150 percent of the minimum wage or lower. This chart shows the share of workers earning equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage in every state in 2012. By hovering over a state, you can also see the minimum wage in 2012 in each state.

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Number of Unemployed per Job Opening

December 20, 2013 • Charts

 

Why is the job-finding rate so low? The basic reason is that job openings remain depressed and there are a lot of unemployed workers competing for those jobs. The number of job openings fell by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2009 and is almost 15 percent lower between 2007 and 2013.

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Probability of Moving From Unemployed to Employed

December 20, 2013 • Charts

 

It has always been harder to find work the longer you are unemployed, but the situation facing today’s workers is exceptional. No matter how long a worker has been unemployed, the odds that they find a job are far lower than before the Great Recession. Figure 1 shows the likelihood of finding a job as measured in the monthly Current Population Survey data.

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Household Food spending as a Fraction of the Thrifty Food Plan Minimum Spending Target for Households under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP is designed to supplement recipients’ purchasing power so that through a combination of SNAP benefits and their own spending out of available cash resources recipients can afford to purchase enough food to feed their families under the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). However, the TFP minimum spending target for food is based on outdated and inappropriate assumptions. In particular, the TFP implicitly assumes that households have unlimited time to prepare food, and therefore are able to cook meals primarily from scratch instead of using prepared ingredients. Over the past twenty years the majority of low-income families spent more on food than would have been suggested by the cost of a minimally adequate food budget that the benefit formula is based on. This difference in spending compared to the TFP target may indicate that some families face higher food prices than those assumed by the TFP.

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Rates of Food Insecurity, 1998-2012

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP benefits are an effective tool for mitigating food insecurity since they increase a family’s ability to purchase food. A recent study by USDA revealed that SNAP participation is associated with a reduction in overall food insecurity rates by 10 percentage points over a six-month period from the time a household enters the program. Furthermore, food insecurity rates for children decreased by about one-third during this same period. Hunger in the United States spiked both during and after the Great Recession. In 2012 over 14 percent of all households were food insecure at some point throughout the year. Furthermore, 20 percent of households with children experienced food insecurity. These rates increased nearly 35 percent from their pre-recession levels.

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Breakdown of Family Characteristics, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

Household composition of families in the struggling lower-middle class varies substantially from the household composition of families in poverty. Of families with income below the federal poverty level (FPL) (approximately 7.1 million families), 70 percent are headed by a single parent (61 percent are single female parents), 24 percent are headed by a married couple with one or two earners, and 6 percent are headed by a married couple with no earners. The composition of the struggling lower-middle class—defined here as working-age families with children under age eighteen whose income places them between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL—is markedly different from families in poverty in terms of marriage and presence of earners.

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Low-and Middle-Income Families See Little Benefit from Adding a Second Earner

December 19, 2013 • Charts

This figure displays the percentage of income generated by the addition of a secondary earner’s income that a family takes home after accounting for payroll and federal income taxes, SNAP benefits, and the cost of child care. Each set of bars represents a family of four (two adults, two children) headed by a full-time worker that earns between 100 and 250 percent of the federal minimum wage (i.e., $15,080 to $37,700 annually). The green and purple bars represent the take-home earnings generated from adding a part-time and full-time secondary earner, respectively, with the same hourly wage. In all eight scenarios represented, a family ultimately keeps less than half of the earnings generated by the secondary earner.

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Highest Educational Attainment of Family Head, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

College attainment differs markedly by poverty status. 33 percent of household family heads below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) attended at least some college, although just 6 percent of those family heads have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only a very small share of this group (4 percent) did not earn a high school diploma.

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Testimony of Melissa S. Kearney

January 16, 2014 • Melissa S. Kearney

The Hamilton Project Director, Melissa S. Kearney testifies before the Joint Economic Committee on income inequality in the United States.

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Testimony of Alan S. Blinder

January 26, 2012 • Alan S. Blinder

Advisory Council member Alan S. Blinder testifies before the Senate Budget Committee on his views on the economy and budget.

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The Economic and Social Effects of Crime and Mass Incarceration in the United States

May 1, 2014 • Washington, DC

On May 1st, The Hamilton Project at Brookings will host a forum and release three new papers focusing on crime and incarceration in the United States. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin will deliver opening remarks, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) will join the forum to discuss the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, which was recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bi-partisan support.

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Supporting America’s Lower-Middle-Class Families

December 4, 2013 • Washington, DC

More than half of American families earn $60,000 or less a year -- outside of poverty but with limited economic security. Many of these families rely on government programs for support and one major setback could throw their lives into chaos. On December 4th, The Hamilton Project hosted a forum to highlight two new proposals for aiding America’s lower middle class families featuring a diverse range of experts.

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Improving College Outcomes: A Modern Approach to Financing Higher Education

October 21, 2013 • Washington, DC

On October 21st, THP hosted a forum and release three new policy proposals by outside experts focusing on the evolving role of higher education, and how changes in student lending and financial aid policies can help improve college outcomes. Thought leaders in higher education from around the country—including Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill; LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow; University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross; Wesleyan University President Michael Roth; and Brookings’ Brown Center for Education Policy Director Grover “Russ” Whitehurst—joined the discussion to comment on the proposals, and provided their thoughts on the future of higher education in American society.

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Investing in What Works: The Importance of Evidence-Based Policymaking

April 17, 2013 • Washington, DC 20001

On April 17th, The Hamilton Project at Brookings and Results for America, an initiative of America Achieves, co-hosted a forum and released two new papers on the important role of evidence in policymaking. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Alan Krueger, Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and other distinguished experts participated in roundtable discussions on the proposals and how evidence-based policymaking can improve the effectiveness of federally funded programs.

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Extending Unemployment Insurance — A Live Web Chat with THP Policy Director Adam Looney

December 5, 2012 • Online Chat

The lame-duck Congress has a long “to-do” list in the final month of the year. Negotiations on a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff are underway, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also discussing whether or not to extend unemployment insurance for 12 million unemployed Americans before the benefits expire on December 29. What are the economic consequences of failing to extend unemployment benefits? Who will be most affected? What weight should we give to news from the Congressional Budget Office that extending benefits will add more than 300,000 jobs to the economy? On Wednesday, December 5, THP Policy Director Adam Looney will take your questions in a live web chat moderated by Vivyan Tran at POLITICO. For more information or to register for the webchat, click here.

Submit questions in advance to communications@brookings.edu.

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Back to School:  Promoting Attainment and Achievement in K-12 Education

September 27, 2012 • Washington, DC

On September 27th, The Hamilton Project at Brookings hosted a forum to discuss new approaches to promoting attainment and achievement in K-12 education.  The event included featured remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, highlighting recent progress on education reform, the difficult work still ahead, and the need for innovation to help advance reform efforts. 

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U.S. Immigration Policy:  The Border Between Reform and the Economy

May 15, 2012 • Washington, DC 20045

America’s immigration policy no longer serves the needs of our fast-changing global economy.   Failure to address immigration reform at the national level has resulted in missed opportunities to spur America’s economic growth and productivity.  On May 15, The Hamilton Project held a forum exploring the challenges and opportunities for immigration reform in today’s political and economic climate. 

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Training America’s Workforce for the Future: New Policies to Boost Employment and Wages

November 30, 2011 • Washington, DC

On November 30, The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution held a forum and released new policy proposals on training programs geared toward the needs of today’s workforce.  In a rapidly changing global economy, the skills of some workers have become obsolete while other skills are in short supply.  By collaborating with industry partners and using evidence about what works, training programs can better prepare workers for jobs with high-demand, both now and in the future.

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The Future of American Jobs, Part II

December 3, 2010 • Washington, DC

The Hamilton Project and the Center for American Progress hosted the second of two conferences addressing the long-term challenges of creating quality jobs in the United States and preparing American workers for those jobs of the future. As part of the event, The Hamilton Project and the Center for American Progress released three targeted policy proposals by outside scholars to deal with the long-term challenges associated with the new global economy.

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Hard Times, Solid Policies to Renew American Communities

October 13, 2010 • Washington, DC

Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) joined former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, New York City Deputy Mayor Steve Goldsmith, and other experts in a Hamilton Project forum focused on policy solutions for renewing American communities. The Hamilton Project released a strategy paper and three new proposals that provide a range of options for helping communities and workers recover from recent economic shocks.
 

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Evolution of the “Jobs Gap” and Possible Scenarios for Growth

April 4, 2014 • Charts

The Hamilton Project tracks the monthly “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month.

charts Icon

State-by-State “Jobs Gap”

April 3, 2014 • Charts

Every month, The Hamilton Project tracks the “jobs gap,” which is the number of jobs that need to be created in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while still absorbing the workers entering the labor force each month. Here, the Project compares changes in employment levels since the onset of the Great Recession across states.

charts Icon

Minimum Wage and Share of Workers Earning Equal to or Less Than 150 Percent of the Minimum Wage in 2012, by State

January 10, 2014 • Charts

Every state in the country has a substantial share of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the minimum wage. In 2012, Montana had the highest share of workers—37.2 percent—with wages equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage. Even in Alaska, which boasts higher wages compared to the rest of the country, 16.9 percent of workers had wages equal to or lower than 150 percent of the minimum. Not surprisingly, the 18 states with a higher minimum wage level than the federal benchmark tended to have higher shares of workers with wages within 150 percent of the minimum wage. However, in every state in the country, at least one in six workers had wages that were equal to 150 percent of the minimum wage or lower. This chart shows the share of workers earning equal to or less than 150 percent of the minimum wage in every state in 2012. By hovering over a state, you can also see the minimum wage in 2012 in each state.

charts Icon

Number of Unemployed per Job Opening

December 20, 2013 • Charts

 

Why is the job-finding rate so low? The basic reason is that job openings remain depressed and there are a lot of unemployed workers competing for those jobs. The number of job openings fell by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2009 and is almost 15 percent lower between 2007 and 2013.

charts Icon

Probability of Moving From Unemployed to Employed

December 20, 2013 • Charts

 

It has always been harder to find work the longer you are unemployed, but the situation facing today’s workers is exceptional. No matter how long a worker has been unemployed, the odds that they find a job are far lower than before the Great Recession. Figure 1 shows the likelihood of finding a job as measured in the monthly Current Population Survey data.

charts Icon

Household Food spending as a Fraction of the Thrifty Food Plan Minimum Spending Target for Households under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP is designed to supplement recipients’ purchasing power so that through a combination of SNAP benefits and their own spending out of available cash resources recipients can afford to purchase enough food to feed their families under the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). However, the TFP minimum spending target for food is based on outdated and inappropriate assumptions. In particular, the TFP implicitly assumes that households have unlimited time to prepare food, and therefore are able to cook meals primarily from scratch instead of using prepared ingredients. Over the past twenty years the majority of low-income families spent more on food than would have been suggested by the cost of a minimally adequate food budget that the benefit formula is based on. This difference in spending compared to the TFP target may indicate that some families face higher food prices than those assumed by the TFP.

charts Icon

Rates of Food Insecurity, 1998-2012

December 19, 2013 • Charts

SNAP benefits are an effective tool for mitigating food insecurity since they increase a family’s ability to purchase food. A recent study by USDA revealed that SNAP participation is associated with a reduction in overall food insecurity rates by 10 percentage points over a six-month period from the time a household enters the program. Furthermore, food insecurity rates for children decreased by about one-third during this same period. Hunger in the United States spiked both during and after the Great Recession. In 2012 over 14 percent of all households were food insecure at some point throughout the year. Furthermore, 20 percent of households with children experienced food insecurity. These rates increased nearly 35 percent from their pre-recession levels.

charts Icon

Breakdown of Family Characteristics, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

Household composition of families in the struggling lower-middle class varies substantially from the household composition of families in poverty. Of families with income below the federal poverty level (FPL) (approximately 7.1 million families), 70 percent are headed by a single parent (61 percent are single female parents), 24 percent are headed by a married couple with one or two earners, and 6 percent are headed by a married couple with no earners. The composition of the struggling lower-middle class—defined here as working-age families with children under age eighteen whose income places them between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL—is markedly different from families in poverty in terms of marriage and presence of earners.

charts Icon

Low-and Middle-Income Families See Little Benefit from Adding a Second Earner

December 19, 2013 • Charts

This figure displays the percentage of income generated by the addition of a secondary earner’s income that a family takes home after accounting for payroll and federal income taxes, SNAP benefits, and the cost of child care. Each set of bars represents a family of four (two adults, two children) headed by a full-time worker that earns between 100 and 250 percent of the federal minimum wage (i.e., $15,080 to $37,700 annually). The green and purple bars represent the take-home earnings generated from adding a part-time and full-time secondary earner, respectively, with the same hourly wage. In all eight scenarios represented, a family ultimately keeps less than half of the earnings generated by the secondary earner.

charts Icon

Highest Educational Attainment of Family Head, by Income Relative to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

December 19, 2013 • Charts

College attainment differs markedly by poverty status. 33 percent of household family heads below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) attended at least some college, although just 6 percent of those family heads have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only a very small share of this group (4 percent) did not earn a high school diploma.

Hamilton Project Updates

A periodic newsletter of events, policy briefs, and working papers from The Hamilton Project.