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 low- and moderately paid workers and their families in the U.S. 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.

RSF prioritizes analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data. We support original data collection when a project is focused on important program priorities, projects that conduct survey or field experiments and qualitative studies. RSF encourages methodological variety and inter-disciplinary collaboration. Proposed projects must have well-developed conceptual frameworks and rigorous research designs. Analytical models must be well-specified and research methods must be appropriate.

RSF priorities do not include analyses of health or mental health outcomes or health behaviors as these are priorities for other funders. For the same reason, RSF seldom supports studies focused on educational processes or curricular issues but does prioritize analyses of inequalities in student achievement or educational attainment

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

Emerging Technologies and the Future of Work and Workers

  • What are the effects of emerging technologies (including advanced communication systems, industrial robots, flexible manufacturing systems, computer-assisted design and manufacturing, and artificial intelligence-mediated decision making) on worker productivity, employment, employer decision-making, job skills, and labor-management relations? How do these effects vary with workers’ education, race/ethnicity, gender, immigration status, region, industry?
  • When does automation contribute to replacement (or substitution) of human decision-making and when does it enhance it?
  • How does reliance on algorithms in hiring and promotion affect opportunities for low-income workers?
  • Can newly available data, such as those obtained through online employment sites, help us better understand changes in occupations, job skill requirements, hiring biases, or labor market shifts?

“The Big Shift”? Changes in Labor Force Participation and Increased Turnover During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • To what extent have concerns about workplace health and safety issues, family pressures due to schooling and daycare uncertainty, remote work options, spatial relocation of workers, and changes in the meaning of work contributed to increased labor force exits and reduced entrances post-pandemic?
  • Even though the economy has recovered from the pandemic-induced job losses, many workers are searching for new or different jobs. What factors have contributed to this shift?
  • Has the pandemic changed workers’ perceptions about their work environment (e.g., remote work, flexible schedules, compensation)?
  • To what extent did pandemic relief, expanded unemployment benefits, rent moratoria, student-loan forgiveness, and other public policy changes contribute to increased quits and reduced labor force participation?
  • What changes in employer practices are likely to emerge from their experiences during the pandemic? To what extent will firms increase wages and job quality and to what extent will they accelerate the adoption of labor-saving technologies?
  • To what extent has the pandemic encouraged union members to strike and nonunion members, including independent contractors, to seek to form unions or other forms of workplace representation or to otherwise pursue workplace changes?
  • How does working from home affect worker wellbeing and productivity?
  • How has the growth in remote work affected the geography of work, firms’ use of low and moderately paid workers and their reliance on independent contractors?
  • To what extent does working from home contribute to (or interfere with) work-life balance? How do any effects vary with workers’ education, race/ethnicity, gender, immigration status, region, industry?

Labor Market Power and Institutions

  • How have changes in the availability of stable jobs at good wages affected the likelihood that the children of working-class parents will graduate from college and/or move into the middle-class? How do these effects vary by race/ethnicity/immigration status/gender?
  • How do perceptions about the workplace vary for workers with and without a college degree, women versus male workers, white workers versus workers of color?
  • How might alternative governance structures affect the balance of power in employment relations? To what extent do labor organizing and collective action improve worker voice and labor market outcomes?
  • What are the employment and wage effects of recent minimum wage increases on diverse groups of workers across industries and occupations and in various parts of the country? 
  • What has been the effect of mergers, inter-firm and noncompete agreements on labor market competition and wages?
  • What are the causes and consequences of employer concentration of corporate power and their effects on employment and wages? 
  • What is the role of public policy in the amelioration of failures of labor market competition? 
  • How does the fissuring of the workplace impact the structure of the labor market and what are the implications for the preservation of middle-class jobs?

Workforce Development, Training, and the 21st Century American Workplace

  • To what extent do labor market intermediaries, such as community colleges, temporary employment agencies, social service providers, and labor unions, promote job mobility and opportunity?
  • When is re-training appropriate and effective? What policies have been effective for developing the skills of workers over the course of their careers?
  • How do employers experience and respond to the challenges posed by technology, globalization, and demographic changes in the workforce?

Changes in Employer Practices and Alternative Work Arrangements

  • How have changes in the incidence of nonstandard work arrangements, firm-to-firm contracting, and new business models that concentrate workers with similar skills levels in the same firm (sometimes known as “fissuring”) affected wage and nonwage compensation and other aspects of job quality? How have these effects varied by demographic group and contributed to the growth in inequality?
  • To what degree do low- and moderate-income individuals turn to independent contracting or informal, nonemployee work arrangements to make ends meet? Has sporadic reliance on these types of work risen recently, and if so, why?
  • The types of intermediated employment—which include temporary help firms, other contract firms, managed service providers, vendor services management, and online platforms—have grown in recent years. How do these arrangements affect the way firms recruit workers and their wages and benefits, employment, and longer-term career opportunities?
  • With the difficulty businesses face in recruiting workers and, in some areas, the adoption of scheduling regulations, how have firms changed their practices to make work hours more predictable and stable? What are major barriers to changing scheduling practices?
  • What kinds of data and partnerships (inter-agency and other) could clarify the scope of worker misclassification and inform enforcement?

Changing Economies, Changing Families and Policy Responses

  • What have been the effects of recent work-family legislation in cities and states on employers, workers, and families, and how do they affect racial and gender inequalities?
  • What changes in employer practices and government policies can foster flexible working conditions at good wages?
  • To what extent have the demands and culture of the contemporary workplace affected working parents’ ability to maintain work-life balance?

Application Information

Funding can be used for research assistance, data acquisition, data analysis, and investigator time for conducting research and writing up results. Trustee Grants are capped at $200,000, including 15% indirect costs, over a two-year period. Presidential Awards are capped at $50,000 (no indirect costs) over a two-year period. However, when research projects have special needs for gathering data (e.g., qualitative research or survey experiments), gaining access to proprietary or restricted-use data, or when the proposal budget includes salary support for multiple assistant professor PIs, applicants may request up to $75,000 (no indirect costs).

A brief letter of inquiry (LOI; four-page maximum 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, Fluxx. Questions should be addressed to Aixa Cintrón-Vélez, Program Director, at programs@rsage.org.