Career Paths of the Marginally Employed - Evidence from Welfare Reform

Many studies have documented the short-term increase in labor supply for single mothers associated with the welfare reform policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the longer-run impact of encouraging employment in this manner depends on the career development of those induced to enter the labor market. I analyze the career effects of inducing employment among single mothers through welfare reform using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation matched to earnings data from the Social Security Administration. I compare the career trajectories of a cohort of women who were single mothers in 1984, before the major expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other welfare reform policy changes, to a cohort of women who were single mothers in 1998. Women in the 1998 cohort have significantly higher labor market participation rates than women in the 1984 cohort. But the effect is not sustained once the children reach age 18 and the women are no longer eligible to receive program benefits. I develop a likelihood weighting technique with which I identify the single mothers who were most likely to have obtained marginal employment. Analyzing this group, I find that 24 percent of marginal employees reach $25,000 annual earnings and only five percent reach $40,000 annual earnings. I argue that whereas there are career effects for a small fraction of the women in the sample, most have unstable employment. However, I find that wage growth varies substantially based on the occupations obtained. Women who obtained administrative jobs experienced greater earnings growth.

Missing Black Men? The Impact of Under-Reporting on Estimates of Black Male Labor Market Outcomes

It is well documented by demographers that there is a long and persistent under-coverage of adult black males in the US Census. Despite this, the census undercount has been largely ignored in research using census data. Similar omission patterns also exist in other household based surveys, such as the Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. I demonstrate that estimates of the undercount that rely on counts from vital statistics data are understated and provide estimates of the undercount of prime age black men in household-based survey data that are robust to under-coverage in vital statistics data. Because the incarcerated are automatically included in the Census, the population at risk of becoming incarcerated provides a unique opportunity for the identification of non-reporter characteristics. I use variation in incarceration by state and year to estimate the impact of increases in incarceration on non-reporting. I find that 90 percent of the incarcerated population would have been non-reporting had they not been incarcerated. Applying reasonable estimates of the size of the population at risk of incarceration, I conclude that non-reporting is almost entirely driven by the population at risk of incarceration. I then use data from the Survey of Inmates on labor market outcomes of inmates prior to incarceration to impute outcomes for the non-reporting population. Accounting for non-reporting meaningfully increases estimated gaps in black-white educational attainment, unemployment rates, and annual earnings.


McCormack, Grace, Christopher Avery, Ariella Kahn-Lang Spitzer and Amitabh Chandra. "Economic Vulnerability of Households with Essential Workers." JAMA. 2020.

Lang, Kevin and Ariella Kahn-Lang Spitzer. “How Discrimination and Bias Shape Outcomes.” Future of Children, 2020.

Lang, Kevin and Ariella Kahn-Lang Spitzer. “Race Discrimination: An Economic Perspective.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2020.

Kahn-Lang, Ariella. “Essays in Labor Market Inequality.” Doctoral dissertation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2019.

Kahn-Lang, Ariella, and Kevin Lang. “The Promise and Pitfalls of Differences-in-Differences: Reflections on ‛Sixteen and Pregnant’ and Other Applications.” Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, 2019.