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Many students are reconsidering their decision to go to college in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, college enrollment is expected to be down sharply as a growing number of would-be college students consider taking a gap year. In part, this pullback reflects concerns about health and safety if colleges resume in-person classes, or missing out on the “college experience” if classes are held online. In addition, poor labor market prospects due to staggeringly high unemployment may be leading some to conclude that college is no longer worth it in this economic environment. In this post, we provide an economic perspective on going to college during the pandemic. Perhaps surprisingly, we find that the return to college actually increases, largely because the opportunity cost of attending school has declined. Furthermore, we show there are sizeable hidden costs to delaying college that erode the value of a college degree, even in the current economic environment. In fact, we estimate that taking a gap year reduces the return to college by a quarter and can cost tens of thousands of dollars in lost lifetime earnings.
Jaison R. Abel, Jason Bram, Richard Deitz, and Benjamin G. Hyman
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s June business surveys show some signs of improvement in the regional economy. Following two months of unprecedented decline due to the coronavirus pandemic, indicators of business activity point to a slower pace of contraction in the service sector and signs of a rebound in the manufacturing sector. Even more encouraging, as the regional economy has begun to reopen, many businesses have started to recall workers who were laid off or put on furlough since the start of the pandemic. Some have even hired new workers. Moreover, businesses expect to recall even more workers over the next month. Looking ahead, firms have become increasingly optimistic that conditions will improve in the coming months.
Displaced workers have been shown to endure persistent losses years beyond their initial job separation events. These losses are especially amplified during recessions. (1) One explanation for greater persistence in downturns relative to booms, is that firms and industries on the margin of structural change permanently shift the types of tasks and occupations demanded after a large negative shock (Aghion et al. (2005)), but these new occupations do not match the stock of human capital held by those currently displaced. In response to COVID-19, firms with products and services that complement social-distancing (like Amazon distribution centers) may continue hiring during and beyond the recovery, while workers displaced from higher risk industries with more stagnant demand (for example, airport personnel, local retail clerks) are left to adjust to less familiar job opportunities. As some industries reopen gradually while others remain stunted, what role might workforce development programs have in bridging the skill gap such that displaced workers are best prepared for this new reality of work?
News headlines highlighting the loss of at least 30 million jobs (so far) underscore the massive shock that has hit the U.S. economy and the dislocation, hardship, and stress it has caused for so many American workers. But how accurately does this number actually capture the number of net job losses? In this post, we look at some of the statistical anomalies and quirks in the weekly claims series and offer a guide to interpreting these numbers. What we find is that the relationship between jobless claims and payroll employment for the month can vary substantially, depending on the nature, timing, and persistence of the disaster.
Indicators of regional business activity plunged to historic lows in early April, as efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus kept many people at home and shut down large parts of the regional economy, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s two business surveys. The headline index for both surveys plummeted to nearly -80, well below any historical precedent including the depths of the Great Recession. About 60 percent of service firms and more than half of manufacturers reported at least a partial shutdown of their operations thus far. Layoffs were widespread, with half of all businesses surveyed reporting lower employment levels in early April.
It’s tempting to compare the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to prior business cycle downturns, particularly the Great Recession. However, such comparisons may not be particularly apt—as evidenced by the unprecedented surge in initial jobless claims over the past three weeks. Recessions typically develop gradually over time, reflecting underlying economic and financial conditions, whereas the current economic situation developed suddenly as a consequence of a fast-moving global pandemic. A more appropriate comparison would be to a regional economy suffering the effects of a severe natural disaster, like Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina or Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. To illustrate this point, we track the recent path of unemployment claims in the United States, finding a much closer match with Louisiana after Katrina than the U.S. economy following the Great Recession.
Workers in the United States experience vast differences in lifetime earnings. Individuals in the 90th percentile earn around seven times more than those in the 10th percentile, and those in the top percentile earn almost twenty times more. A large share of these differences arise over the course of people’s careers. What accounts for these vastly different outcomes in the labor market? Why do some individuals experience much steeper earnings profiles than others? Previous research has shown that the “job ladder”—in which workers obtain large pay increases when they switch to better jobs or when firms want to poach them—is important for wage growth. In this post, we investigate how job ladders differ across workers.
Two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the two territories’ economies have moved in very different directions. When the hurricanes struck, both were already in long economic slumps and had significant fiscal problems. As of the summer of 2019, however, Puerto Rico’s economy was showing considerable signs of improvement since the hurricanes, while the Virgin Islands’ economy remained mired in a deep slump through the end of 2018, though signs of a nascent recovery have emerged in 2019. In this post, we assess the contrasting trends of these two economies since the hurricanes and attempt to explain the forces driving these trends.
The federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 per hour, has remained unchanged for the longest stretch of time since its 1938 inception under the Fair Labor Standards Act. With the real purchasing power of the federal minimum wage eroded by inflation, many states and municipalities have raised their local minimum wages. As of July 2019, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia—home to 35 percent of Americans—have minimum wages above $10 per hour, as do numerous localities scattered across other states. New York is among a handful of states—along with California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey—that has passed legislation to eventually increase minimum wages to $15 per hour. While New York began raising its minimum wage from $7.25 per hour in 2014, neighboring Pennsylvania has left its minimum wage unchanged at the federal floor. Minimum-wage variation between contiguous states has allowed researchers to evaluate the respective impacts on employment and average earnings. In this post, we gauge the effect of New York’s recent minimum-wage hikes by comparing low-wage sectors in counties along the New York-Pennsylvania border.
Rajashri Chakrabarti, Michelle Jiang, and William Nober
In an earlier post, we studied how educational attainment affects labor market outcomes and earnings inequality. In this post, we investigate whether these labor market effects were preserved across the last business cycle: Did students with certain types of educational attainment weather the recession better?
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
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