Future of Work

Submission Deadlines: See upcoming deadlines

The severe consequences of the Covid19-pandemic, including its economic disruptions, and the recent mass protests to combat systemic racial inequality in policing and other institutions have reaffirmed the importance of social science research examining economic, political, racial, ethnic, generational, and social inequalities relevant to public policy and social change. RSF encourages proposals that analyze any of these issues on topics of interest under our Future of Work program. [Click here for Covid-19 priorities].

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 employment, earnings, and job quality. We are especially interested in proposals that address questions about the interplay of market and non-market forces in shaping the wellbeing of workers, today and in the future.

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

Causes and Consequences of Job Polarization

  • Workers in cities who lack a college degree are less likely to work in middle-skill occupations than in the past, and their urban wage premium has eroded.  What are the implications of this trend for opportunity and mobility of less-skilled workers?
  • 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 do these effects vary by race/ethnicity/ immigration status/gender?
  • How have workers’ perceptions and expectations about work and employment changed i.e., what do they consider to be a “good job”? 
  • 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 with and without a college degree, women versus male workers, whites versus workers of color)?

Alternative Work Arrangements

  • 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 are the effects 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 costs and rents?
  • 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

  • Are there promising alternative labor organizing strategies that have been shown to increase workers voice in improving working conditions and promote labor mobility?
  • 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 are the effects 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?
  • 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 might redress the 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?
  • How has reliance on algorithms affected opportunities for low-income workers?
  • What is the impact of labor market shocks generated by artificial intelligence, robotics and automation for workers education/ race/ethnicity/ immigration status/gender in different parts of the country and in different industries?
  • 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?

Workforce Development and Training

  • To what extent do labor market intermediaries, such as community colleges, temporary employment agencies, and labor unions, promote mobility and opportunity, and how do these effects differ by education/ race/ethnicity/ immigration status/gender?
  • When is re-training appropriate and effective? What are some promising ways to support the skills and experience of workers over the course of their careers, non-classroom life-long learning and re-skilling?

Changing Economies, Changing Families and Policy Responses

  • New work-family legislation has been enacted in several cities and states. What do we know about the effects of these new laws on employers, workers, and families?
  • What is the current landscape regarding 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 using computational social science, particularly how digital, large and complex data and computational methods can further our understanding of the causes and consequences of changes in job quality, especially for low-wage workers.

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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