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Why Do Some Jobs Pay So Little?

A recent one-day strike by fast-food workers has called attention to the low wages in the industry. James Surowiecki offers one reason that the issue’s visibility has increased recently:

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

Given that reality, Surowiecki writes, raising the minimum wage by a few bucks a hour won’t fix the problem. His prescription: more truly middle-class jobs and an expansion of the social safety net. “Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands,” he writes, “aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off.”



How LinkedIn Is Changing Recruiting

Sarah Halzack, writing for The Washington Post, explores how LinkedIn is changing job-searching and recruiting:

As LinkedIn has exploded — perhaps because it has exploded — there has been a major shift in the way employers find new workers. Gone are the days of “post and pray,” a recruiter’s adage for the practice of advertising a job opening and then idly hoping that good candidates swim up to the bait.

Now the process of talent acquisition is something of a hunt.

“We’re really at a point now where all of your employees are vulnerable to being poached. Every single one,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of talent consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte.

The change is happening rapidly: A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. And among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they are using LinkedIn.

Recruiter Chris Scalia told Halzack that the type of candidates he sees on LinkedIn is also changing. “LinkedIn was always known for where you would go to find that really critical, challenging hire,” Scalia said. “It was never really where you would go for a PC technician or something at the lower end of the career mobility scale. Now I see both. It is completely flooded.”

(HT: The Big Picture)



When Good Deeds Are Punished

In our podcast about spite, called “What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?,” we talked to Benedikt Herrmann about his research on anti-social behavior. Sociologists Kyle Irwin and Christine Horne are also investigating why spiteful behavior occurs. In a recent experiment, they found that social norms drove players to punish too-cooperative members of the lab game. From Ars Technica

Irwin and Horne found that strong social norms encouraged punishment of the cooperative player: the more similar the first four pre-programmed donations were, the higher the punishments tended to be for the overly generous deviant. When there is a clear “right way” to behave, the researchers suggest, people respond more strongly to behaviors that don’t fit the norm.

However, the strength of social norms didn’t affect the punishments of the stingy deviant. Players tended to punish this individual equally under both conditions. The researchers suggest that no matter how high or low conformity is among group members, people always see stinginess as a punishable offense.



Messing With Memory: Mouse Edition

We’ve blogged in the past about how easy it is to create false memories for people. Now scientists at MIT say they’ve succeeded in creating false memories in mice. From The New York Times:

In the research reported Thursday, Dr. Tonegawa’s team first put mice in one environment and let them get used to it and remember it. They identified and chemically labeled the cells in the animals’ brains where that memory was being formed. The mice were not shocked in that environment.

A day later, in a completely different environment, the researchers delivered an electric shock to the mice at the same time that they stimulated the previously identified brain cells to trigger the earlier memory.

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How Does Stop-and-Frisk Change Attitudes?

New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy has been the subject of major debates and several lawsuits in recent months.  A new paper (gated) by Stephanie A. Wiley and Finn-Aage Esbensen analyzes the relationship between “police contact” and future attitudes and actual criminal acts among children and teens:

Current police policies are based on assumptions that proactive policing strategies will not only deter crime but will also improve police–community relations. Deterrence theorists argue that general and specific deterrence can be achieved through such policing strategies. Labeling proponents, however, maintain that juveniles stopped and/or arrested by the police, rather than be deterred, will actually engage in more delinquency as a result of this contact. Research to date has provided mixed evidence. The current study seeks to inform this debate by examining the effect of being stopped or arrested on subsequent delinquent behavior and attitudes. Relying on three waves of data from a multisite sample of youth, we use propensity score matching to control for preexisting differences among youth who have and have not experienced police contact. Our findings reveal that being stopped or arrested not only increases future delinquency but also amplifies deviant attitudes.

The BPS Research Digest elaborates:

The key finding is that with participants matched for propensity, those who had contact with the police at time two (compared with those who didn’t) said at time three that they’d feel less guilt if they committed various offences from theft to violence; they expressed more agreement with various “neutralisation” scenarios (e.g. it’s OK to lie to keep yourself out of trouble); they were more committed to their deviant peers (e.g. they planned to continue hanging out with friends who’d been arrested); and finally, they said they’d engaged in more offending behaviour, from skipping classes to taking drugs or being violent. This pattern of results differed little whether police contact involved being arrested or merely being stopped.

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3D Printers for Everyone?

We’ve blogged before about the potential of 3D food printers, but at the moment such printers seem out of reach for the average consumer.  Perhaps not for long — a new paper by B.T. Wittbrodt, A.G. Glover, J. Laureto, G.C. Anzalone, D. Oppliger, J.L. Irwin, and J.M. Pearce conducts a cost-benefit analysis of 3D printers for the average household:

This study reports on the life-cycle economic analysis (LCEA) of RepRap technology for an average U.S. household.  A new low-cost RepRap is described and the costs of materials and time to construct it are quantified.  The economic costs of a selection of twenty open-source printable designs (representing less than 0.04% of those available), are typical of products that a household might purchase, are quantified for print time, energy, and filament consumption and compared to low and high Internet market prices for similar products without shipping costs.  The results show that even making the extremely conservative assumption that the household would only use the printer to make the selected twenty products a year the avoided purchase cost savings would range from about $300 to $2,000/year.  Assuming the 25 hours of necessary printing for the selected products is evenly distributed throughout the year these savings provide a simple payback time for the RepRap in 4 months to 2 years and provide an ROI between>200% and >40%.  As both upgrades and the components that are most likely to wear out in the RepRap can be printed and thus the lifetime of the distributing manufacturing can be substantially increased the unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already. It appears clear that as RepRaps improve in reliability, continue to decline in cost and both the number and assumed utility of open-source designs continues growing exponentially, open-source 3-D printers will become a mass-market mechatronic device.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)



Lessons From a No-Tipping Restaurant

Our recent podcast about tipping mentioned a San Diego restaurant, the Linkery, that adopted a strict no-tipping policy. The Linkery has since closed its doors, but owner Jay Porter (who was featured in the podcast) has been writing about the effects of a no-tipping policy. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 of his blog posts. A summary of his takeaways:

1) Due to poorly cohering laws in many Western U.S. states, using a service charge has typically been the only legal way for a restaurant business to balance wages between servers, bartenders, cooks and dishwashers. That’s why restaurants like Chez Panisse instituted such a [service charge] policy.. Subsequent court decisions in the Western U.S. have opened up the possibility that other arrangements are legal, but the service charge is still the safest model.

2) Because tips cannot legally, in most cases, be controlled by the employer, they are typically distributed (or not distributed, as the case may be) according to a social compact between the employees. That social compact is either unenforced or enforced through social means, like ostracization. In either event, the systems for both acquiring and distributing tips are easily gamed by members of the compact who are intent on doing so.

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Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce.” [MUSIC: The Jaguars, “By By Mai Thai” (from The Jaguars)] Enrico MORETTI: I’m Enrico Moretti and I’m a professor of economics at Berkeley. Stephen J. DUBNER: Okay, very good. So Enrico, a listener wrote to us with a very, very straightforward […] Read More »