ECON 220 Labor Economics Course Guide

Course Description

This course explores how labor markets operate and how institutions shape labor market performance and outcomes from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Students will become familiar with the theories and methods used by labor economists and will have the opportunity to apply them to topics of interest and current events. We will also discuss historical and institutional forces that have shaped the modern American workplace and workforce. Topics to be covered include, but are not limited to, labor supply, labor demand, wage determination, human capital, wage inequality, mobility, discrimination, unions, labor discipline, unemployment and bargaining power, unemployment insurance, employment insecurity, and full employment policies.

Assessable Learning Objectives

  1. Demonstrate a theoretical understanding of how labor markets operate
  2. Use quantitative data and qualitative analysis to explain and critique the manner in which labor market outcomes change over time
  3. Understand how institutional and historical forces shape labor market performance
  4. Apply theoretical and empirical analysis to current events and policy recommendations

Course Outline

  1. Introduction: Labor and People
  2. Labor Supply
  3. Labor Demand
  4. Labor Market Equilibrium & Immigration
  5. Compensating Wage Differentials
  6. Human Capital, Schooling, and Signaling
  7. Wage Structure
  8. Labor Turnover
  9. Labor Market Discrimination
  10. Labor Unions
  11. The Transformation Problem: Labor Discipline and Incentive Pay
  12. Unemployment and Unemployment Insurance
  13. Employment Insecurity
  14. Full Employment Policies

Recommended Teaching Methodology

The primary objective in teaching this class is to engage students in critical thinking about labor economics, from not only a theoretical perspective, but also from an empirical and applied perspective. The latter approach opens the door to discussions and assignments that deal with policy implications.

The primary method of teaching will likely stress interactive lecture and class discussion. Presentations should clarify and amplify text material, providing students with the opportunity to engage in discussion regarding course topics. Instructors should seek to limit the amount of lecturing in the traditional sense, where text material is repeated in a different format.

Secondary methods include the discussion of relevant current events and newspaper articles that provide examples and insight into economic perspectives on labor issues. Articles and cases may be assigned for oral and/or written presentation and discussion. A final project—part writing, part data analysis—will allow students to apply the empirical research skills developed in their LDAs (see below) to a topic of their choosing.

Recommended Assessment Measures

Regular assessment serves at least four objectives within this course. First, assessment provides feedback to students on their achievement and shortcomings while a course is underway. Second, assessment may provide an incentive for students to actively engage and study course material. Third, assessment is the process by which student evaluation is quantified for purposes of course grades. Finally, assessment provides feedback to the faculty on student achievement of course objectives. Design of assessment measures for the course should satisfy each of these objectives.

  1. The primary method for assessing the attainment of knowledge is through a midterm and final exam. Exams must be designed to assess the student’s level of understanding and ability to discuss material, from the text and class discussions, that is directly related to the learning objectives. Exams must stress problem solving and analytical thinking abilities, not memorization skills.
  2. Students will complete six LDAs—Labor Data Assignments—that require them to explore and familiarize themselves with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website. After a brief in-class tutorial that exposes them to the layout and design of the BLS site, methods and tools for downloading, formatting, presenting, analyzing, and interpreting are presented. Students will complete six LDAs where they are required to answer a variety of questions using data analysis as directly related to theories discussed in class, in addition to assessing the policy implications of the results.
  3. Students will become engaged in a final project that is really a large, independent LDA. Students must form an original hypothesis that can be answered using data from the BLS. They are then required to support their hypothesis with these data and two related academic references. A four minute presentation of their results to the class is also required. The focus of the final project is empirical analysis, including a write-up of the results. As such, this assignment is less of a research paper than an empirical, applied project.

Statement of Expectations

Students should expect that the average weekly workload in this course would be three hours in class plus a minimum of six hours of reading, studying, and assignment preparation. It is expected that students address issues of theory and policy with equal vigor.

The material covered in this course is not easy—economics is inherently difficult, especially in a very competitive environment. Most of the learning that will take place will not happen in the classroom. Students should understand that most learning takes place when they are working on the material outside of class, when they are reading, thinking critically, analyzing, and applying concepts and techniques. The amount that students learn and the level of skill that is developed will be directly related to the amount of effort that is expended. Classes are opportunities to discuss and apply the material, and to develop communication and leadership skills. They are also opportunities for professors to provide insight, to help students attain understanding, and for the evaluation of performance.

Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills

The most important prerequisites are an interest in the subject, a willingness to commit the necessary resources in terms of time and intellectual effort, and a desire to actively participate in the learning process. The formal prerequisite is ECON 101. This course will require a challenging mix of analytic, writing, and oral communication skills. Students should be prepared to deal extensively with the graphs, algebraic concepts, and detailed technical language. Students having concerns about their level of preparation should see their instructor.

Institutional Mechanism for Providing Feedback for Continuous Quality Improvement

Individual professors teaching this course will evaluate each student based on course objectives. Performance assessments will be summarized and reported to the department head or a designate, with separate assessments for relevant learning outcomes. Performance assessments from multiple sections and professors will be compiled into a single comparative report. This report will be utilized for periodic evaluation of ECON 102. The fundamental objective of reviewing student outcomes across course sections is to provide regular feedback for improving instructional effectiveness.