Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market

Awarded Scholars:
Annette Bernhardt, National Employment Law Project
Marc A. Scott, Teachers College, Columbia University
Project Date:
Jul 1999
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work


Over the past two decades the route into steady employment has become more treacherous for young workers and the promise of upward mobility more elusive. These conclusions stem from a Foundation-sponsored study, carried out by sociologists Annette Bernhardt from Columbia University and Martina Morris and Mark Handcock from Pennsylvania State University, comparing the labor market progress of a cohort of young workers in the 1970s with a similar cohort in the 1980s. The 1980s cohort endured a more protracted and more volatile period of transition into permanent employment than the earlier cohort. Young workers in the 1970s benefited from a period of "job shopping," in which job changes led to better wages, whereas their counterparts in the 1980s were more often victims of "job churning," cycling between short term jobs that led nowhere. With further funding from the Foundation, Bernhardt, Morris, and Handcock will now investigate in more detail the timing and sequence of job changes for young workers in order to find out why job switching is no longer beneficial. They aim to link their model of job-switching with a parallel model of wage changes. By combining these models they will be able to predict how changing jobs or staying with one employer affects wages over the long term.


The researchers will also analyze the role education plays in shaping labor market fortunes, taking account of the increasing heterogeneity in the type and timing of education acquired by today's young adults. On the basis of this research, the investigators will author a non-technical book touching upon several issues of popular concern, including job instability, the transition from school to work, and multi-employer careers.



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