How can two studies researching the same question come up with two different answers? That was the dilemma that several media outlets recently had to confront, with the release of the results of two studies looking at the impact of the city of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage rate for workers in that city. Even though the studies were looking at the same issue, they came up with results that contradicted each other.
The results of the first study indicated that the wage increase didn’t reduce overall job numbers or hours of work. Media: “Yay! Minimum wage increases are a good thing.” But then the results of the second study indicated that the wage increase caused declines in both numbers of jobs and amounts of work. Media: “Um…okay, maybe minimum wage increases aren’t that great.”
The fact that these studies had different results doesn’t mean that one study is right and the other is wrong, or that both studies are wrong and nobody really knows what happened. The studies are admittedly not easy reading – both use complex forms of economic analysis that, frankly, I wouldn’t try to explain because I would probably get them wrong. But we can still look at how the studies were designed and carried out to see if there are reasons why their results might differ.
I wrote an opinion article for the Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper, responding to recent comments by Canadian politicians that workers should “get used to” job churn and precarious work. You can read the article here.
Underemployment is a phenomenon in the labour market that doesn’t get a lot of attention. That’s partly because the term “underemployment” can mean a couple of different things. One definition of “underemployment” is part-time workers who would prefer to be working full-time, or who are actively seeking full-time work while working part-time. Those situations aren’t always captured by measures that simply count the numbers of part-time workers, because those data don’t look at workers’ reasons why they are working part-time.
Another definition of “underemployment” is workers that have higher qualifications than the requirements of the job they’re employed in. This is also referred to as “overqualification”. And there’s a new study with some fascinating data about underemployment or overqualification among people with graduate degrees. (more…)
These stories tend to be very one-sided discussions, based on an implicit assumption that a university’s job is to produce what employers want. Obviously, no university student wants to spend several years and many thousands of dollars to end up being unemployable. But when all Canadian universities are struggling with decreasing government funding and increasing operating expenses, I sense an increasing frustration from universities that they are expected to respond only to whatever employers want. And, in my view, this frustration also results from a failure by governments and other stakeholders to acknowledge other purposes for university education – like producing well-rounded individuals that can become active and informed members of society.
There are great employers who understand what universities do, and why they do what they do. And there are not-so-great employers who don’t understand why universities won’t produce “better” graduates. If universities were to respond to those narrow-minded employers, what would they say? Here’s what I think it might sound like. (more…)