Do volatile firms pay volatile earnings? Evidence using linked worker-firm data

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Abstract

The instability of labor earnings in the United States contributes to earnings inequality and may diminish household welfare. Despite the importance of earnings instability little is known about its correlates or causes. This paper seeks to better understand earnings instability by studying whether volatile firms pay volatile earnings. I am the first to directly test the relationship between earnings instability and firm employment instability using linked employer-employee data. I find a positive and statistically significant relationship between the two that remains when the effect is estimated using only within-firm variation. This suggests that the effect is a feature of the way workers are being paid by their employer. The size of the effect varies by a worker’s position in the earnings distribution: low-earning worker are passed a greater share of firm employment instability than higher-earning workers. Survey data from the NLSY79 confirm that lower-skill workers have relatively less stable earnings. I find significant heterogeneity in the magnitude and significance of the effect across industries and explore how the competitiveness of an industry relates to the size of the industryspecific effect.

 

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About the Author

 

Michael R.
Strain
  • Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he studies labor economics, public finance, and applied microeconomics. His research has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals and in the policy journals Tax Notes and National Affairs. Dr. Strain also writes frequently for popular audiences on topics including labor market policy, jobs, minimum wages, federal tax and budget policy, and the Affordable Care Act, among others.  His essays and op-eds have been published by National Review, The New York Times, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, Forbes, Bloomberg View, and a variety of other outlets. He is frequently interviewed by major media outlets, and speaks often on college campuses. Before joining AEI he worked on the research team of the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program and was the manager of the New York Census Research Data Center, both at the U.S. Census Bureau.  Dr. Strain began his career in the macroeconomics research group of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  He is a graduate of Marquette University, and holds an M.A. from New York University and a Ph.D. from Cornell.


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  • Phone: 202-862-4884
    Email: michael.strain@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Regan Kuchan
    Phone: 202-862-5903
    Email: regan.kuchan@aei.org

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