Future of Work

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The Russell Sage Foundation’s program on the Future of Work supports innovative research on the causes and consequences of changes in the quality of jobs for less- and moderately-skilled workers and their families. We seek investigator-initiated research proposals that will broaden our understanding of the role of changes in employer practices, the nature of the labor market and public policies on the employment, earnings, and the quality of jobs of workers. We are especially interested in proposals that address important questions about the interplay of market and non-market forces in shaping the wellbeing of workers, today and in the future.

Examples of the kinds of topics and questions that are of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

Causes and consequences of job polarization

  • Recent research suggests that non-college-educated workers in cities are far less likely to work in middle-skill occupations than in the past, and that the urban wage premium has sharply eroded.  What are the implications of this trend for opportunity and mobility of less-skilled workers?
  • The changing labor market presents many challenges to reaching the middle class. Employment shocks may change the ways in which young adults form families of their own, the likelihood that they engage in risky behaviors and norms and expectations about the transition to adulthood. How have changes in the availability of stable jobs at good wages affected the likelihood that the children of working-class parents will be able to graduate from college and/ or move into the middle-class?
  • How have workers’ perceptions and expectations about work and employment changed i.e., what do they consider to be a “good job”? 
  • What are the new middle-wage jobs and how do we grow them?
  • How do firms make choices about the type of jobs they create and how does it matter for worker outcomes? 
  • How do perceptions about changes in the contemporary workplace, from the effects of technology on work, on job security and training to acquire new skills vary across different groups of workers (e.g., workers without a college education versus other workers, women versus male workers, white versus non-white workers)?

Changes in Alternative Work Arrangements:

  • What proportion of the workforce is employed in “standard” jobs and how has this changed over time? How do job tenure, job retention, and the probability of job loss differ between standard and non-standard work?
  • How prevalent is domestic outsourcing (by occupation/sector/overall), to what extent has it grown over time and how are workers affected? Why do firms contract out for certain functions and what is its impacts on job quality? 
  • To what extent is the choice of non-standard work by firms a way to reduce their sharing of monopoly rents? What comprises a wage theory for alternative work arrangements? 
  • In the case of domestic outsourcing, does the causal arrow run from outsourcing to falling wages? Or are the workers whose wages are falling outsourced by parent firms to reduce their payroll and rents?
  • To what extent has non-standard work affected the labor force participation, wages, income trajectories, and income volatility of low- and moderately-skilled workers?
  • What are the implications of non-standard work for skills development, future labor market opportunities, family formation, savings or retirement decisions?

The Changing Legal Environment:

  • What are some promising alternative labor organizing strategies that allow workers to have a voice in improving working conditions and promote labor mobility?
  • What are the implications of the emergence of new (i.e., technology) intermediaries for labor and employment laws?
  • To what extent can portable benefits protect workers in non-standard work?
  • How do we define and measure voluntary and involuntary idleness in alternative work arrangements, given that there is no provision of unemployment insurance?
  • What is the evidence on the employment and wage effects of recent minimum wage increases on different groups of workers across industries and occupations and in different parts of the country? 

Emerging Technologies and the Future of Work

  • What is the impact of emerging technologies (including advanced communication systems, industrial robots, flexible manufacturing systems, computer-assisted design and manufacturing, as well as artificial intelligence-mediated decision making) on productivity, employment, job skills, and labor-management relations?
  • To what extent does automation/technological change affect labor demand/displacement, task content/job quality, productivity/labor share?
  • When does automation lead to replacement (or substitution) of human decision making and when does it lead to enhancement of human decision-making?
  • What policy interventions are called for to address any disruptive effects of emerging technologies (e.g., passive adaptation, reactionary slow-down, pre-emptive investment)?  What do we learn from experiments with unions, worker councils, apprenticeships, wage insurance, worker training accounts, flexicurity, public-sector jobs?
  • To what extent has increased reliance on algorithms affected opportunities for low-income workers?
  • What do people think that automation will do to them (across national contexts as well as industry, occupations and skill levels)?
  • What is the impact of labor market shocks generated by artificial intelligence, robotics and automation for workers (e.g., the non-college educated versus other workers) in different parts of the country and in different industries? 

Training

  • Which labor market intermediaries, such as community colleges, temp agencies, and labor unions, make the most difference for mobility and opportunity, and for whom?
  • When is re-training appropriate? What are some promising ways to support the skills and experience of workers over the course of their careers, in particular non-classroom life-long learning and re-skilling?

Changing economies, changing families and policy responses

  • Workplaces and families are changing. Work arrangements are more flexible, but also less secure. Are we seeing the development of new ways of working and what do these changes portend for employers and employees?
  • New work-family legislation has been enacted in several cities and states. What do we know about the impact of these new laws on employers, workers, and families?
  • What is the current landscape with regard to work-family policy initiatives at different levels of government? What factors explain both recent changes and the lack of other changes? What are the implications?

Links to Other Foundation Priorities

RSF has a strong interest in projects linked to Computational Social Science, specifically how digital, large volume and complex data and new computational methods can further our understanding of the causes and consequences of changes in job quality, especially for low-wage workers. Can newly available data, such as those obtained through online employment sites or other sources, provide new information about changes in occupations, job skill requirements, hiring biases, or labor market shifts? Can these data be linked to educational information that might provide insights about how majors and degrees respond to labor market changes? Given the on-going changes in the labor market, can linked administrative and survey data provide better information on how workers in declining industries who experience mass layoffs adapt to changes in demand for labor?

Application Information

We are particularly interested in analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data. We also support original data collection. Proposals to conduct field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged.

The Foundation encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. All proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and research designs. Analytical models must be specified and research questions and hypotheses (where applicable) must be clearly stated.

Funding can be used for research assistance, data acquisition, data analysis, and investigator time for conducting research and writing up results. Trustee Grants are generally capped at $175,000, including 15% indirect costs, over a two-year period. Presidential Awards are capped at $35,000 (no indirect costs). PIs may request up to $50,000 (no indirect costs) when the proposed research project has special needs for gathering data (e.g.: qualitative research) or gaining access to restricted-use data.

RSF receives so many applications for its limited funding that it no longer considers submissions that make use of publicly-available data, such as the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, National Longitudinal survey of Youth, etc. However, if the project addresses a pressing issue or uses these data in an innovative way, RSF may consider such proposals as Presidential grants with a maximum budget of $35,000.

A brief letter of inquiry (4 pages max. excluding references) must precede a full proposal to determine whether the proposed project is in line with the Foundation's program priorities and available funds. All applications must be submitted through the Foundation's online submission system. Questions should be sent to Aixa Cintrón-Vélez, Program Director, at programs@rsage.org.

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