July 10, 2020

The MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, a multi-disciplinary initiative examining how emerging technologies are changing the nature of work, is launching a series of subject-specific research briefs by MIT faculty that will help frame national discussion and policies regarding work, technology, and how we can create greater shared prosperity in the country. The first two briefs in the series focus on the future of workers, specifically the disappearance of urban middle-class jobs for non-college-educated workers (by Task Force co-chair Professor David Autor); and worker voice and influence in the workplace (by Task Force member Professor Thomas Kochan). The Task Force will release an additional dozen briefs this summer and early fall that will inform its final report in November.

Building on the Task Force’s interim report last year, “Work of the Future: Shaping Technologies and Institutions,” Task Force members will provide analysis on topics including manufacturing, health care, tax reform, skills/training, and emerging technologies such as collaborative robotics and additive manufacturing. As the Task Force continues its research, the briefs will respond to the rapidly changing environment brought on by Covid-19 and its societal and economic impacts.

The two research briefs released today examine:

The Faltering Escalator of Urban Opportunity

Author: David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics at MIT and Co-Chair of the Task Force

Building on his earlier work, Professor Autor documents that cities no longer provide an abundance of middle-skill jobs for workers without college degrees. His new brief, in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategy Group, adds a race and gender dimension to this analysis and considers the role of local living costs in affecting real wage levels.

In the first several decades after World War II, urban non-college-educated workers could earn higher wages than their nonurban counterparts by performing higher-skilled, more specialized jobs in cities. This distinctive feature of dense labor markets has diminished as rising automation and international trade have encroached on employment in production, administrative support, and clerical work. The urban occupational skill gradient for non-college-educated workers has completely disappeared over the last four decades, and along with it, the formerly robust urban wage premium for workers without a college education. The brief also provides data to illustrate that the deterioration in occupational standing and earnings of non-college-educated urban workers has been even more pronounced for Hispanics and Black workers than for whites, and most pronounced for Black males (both college-educated and non-college-educated).

Worker Voice, Representation, and Implications for Public Policies

Author: Thomas A. Kochan, Task Force member and George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management

Professor Kochan highlights some of his recent research on workers’ influence in the workplace and the kind of representation workers would prefer. The brief outlines proposed changes to U.S. labor policy that Kochan believes will help the country achieve a future with broadly shared prosperity—and a new, more equitable social contract governing work.

Workers today want not only collective bargaining but also an opportunity to influence how they work, both through informal processes in the workplace and through a role in corporate governance and decision-making. This is especially important if workers are to have a voice in shaping how technology is used to do work. The brief highlights how current U.S. labor law leaves those key decisions to employers, without any requirements for consultation with or advance notice to employees about the introduction of new technologies. The brief recommends a major transformation of labor law and associated policies for improving worker-employer relationships.

“This first set of briefs delves into challenging aspects of the U.S. labor market that need to be addressed,” said Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director, MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future. “The goal of this series of research briefs—leading up to the Task Force’s final report—is to enable and inform leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to ask the right questions as they make policies and investments that will impact the future of workers.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

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