Biden Nominates Julie Su to Become Next Labor Secretary | Roundup #17
Plus: A new study on ChatGPT and worker productivity, dark patterns in the workplace
Welcome to our new readers to the Workonomics Roundup! I post these Roundups every two weeks, summarizing some of the latest labor, technology, and policy updates.
I’m poring through Twitter, economic research, policy updates, and employment data and summarizing it in a brief update you can read
at work on your way to work.
As always, feel free to comment on this post or drop me a line on Twitter to discuss or share any feedback.
Upticks in Part-Time Work and Independent Contracting
An NBER working paper found that current government labor statistics may drastically understate the number of independent contractors in the US. Independent contractors may compose 15% of all workers, almost double the current estimate of 7% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (Bloomberg)
Some workers interpreted BLS survey questions involving “employment” differently than the legal definition (“Yes, I work for Uber!”). This led to the miscoding of some independent contractors as employees.
A good amount of policy decision-making relies on BLS statistics. This study shows that even more workers are not receiving protections like minimum wage and unemployment insurance, which are currently only granted to employees.
The BLS reports that the number of Americans working part-time (less than 35 hours a week) has steadily increased. In particular, the number working part-time out of choice has been growing and approaching pre-pandemic highs. Meanwhile, the number working part-time because they couldn’t find full-time work or their hours were cut was trending downward. (WSJ)
This is a sign of labor market strength. While many workers negotiate higher wages due to higher negotiating power, others flex that power by leaving behind the 40-hour week.
AI, Worker Productivity, and Unemployment
A study conducted by MIT economists evaluated how ChatGPT could help workers that were working on a simulated writing assignment for work. The participants with access to ChatGPT could complete their writing assignment in 37% less time and increase grades received by a third-party evaluator.
Using ChatGPT also leveled the playing field: the participants who would otherwise score a lower grade on writing assignments are the ones who get the biggest grade boosts once they start using ChatGPT.
Writer and former BLS analystargues that AI will not lead to permanent unemployment but, on the contrary, higher rates of global human employment. Politano doesn’t deny that workers may need to move to new jobs or industries or that there would be some short-term unemployment. But he points out that labor demand, especially in services, has increased significantly after past technological disruptions. AI, despite the hype, is unlikely to be significantly different from those instances. (Apricitas)
Immigration in Focus
Julie Su, the current Deputy Secretary of Labor, was nominated by Biden to lead the agency after Marty Walsh’s departure and is expected to be a strong proponent of immigration and immigrant worker protections. In addition to previously serving in California’s labor department, Su was a lawyer representing immigrant workers in human trafficking cases in Los Angeles. Su’s proponents expect her to push for expanded work visas like the H-2B program. Su’s nomination still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. (Bloomberg)
An NBER study conducted by economists at Harvard, MIT, and the University of Rochester empirically demonstrates that increased immigration raises the staffing level of nursing homes and leads to lower patient hospitalization.
Other Interesting Links
Senator Bernie Sanders, now chairman of the top Senate health committee, says forthcoming bipartisan legislation will address the severe shortage of healthcare workers. (NPR)
Great post by Jerusalem Demsas on “permission-slip culture,” which requires workers — like cosmetologists, interior designers, and even funeral attendants — to pay for expensive certification courses that create unnecessary barriers for workers and drive up prices for consumers. (The Atlantic)
TikTok user @ambergirts posted about how Amazon surveils its delivery workers, including tracking seatbelt buckles and whether workers drink coffee while driving. An automated system gives workers violations for each transgression. (TikTok)
Kathryn Taylor at the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy argues privacy laws that protect consumers from dark patterns (like surprise fees at checkout or a hard-to-find email unsubscribe button) should also be expanded to cover workers from dark patterns in the workplace. State-level privacy legislation, proposed federal laws, and FTC action have all attempted to protect consumers against dark patterns but have not yet been enforced for workers. (NYU JLPP)
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