Student Debt, The CHIPS Act, and the Impact of Pay Transparency

Letter from the Chief Economist

August 26, 2022 by Bledi Taska

First things first: on  September 12, I’ll be joining the Block Center at Carnegie Mellon University for a webinar on automation and the labor market. New technologies require us to rethink policies and patterns all throughout the economy, so I’m excited to have this conversation with Nicole Nestoriak from the BLS and also Stanford’s Erik Brynjolfsson (who’s both a living legend and a rock star). Sign up for the free webinar to join us in discussing how automation will continue to shape the world of work both now and in the future.

card advertising the webinar; it reads "september 12, 3:30-4:30, zoom webinar. "how is automation really affecting the labor market? A moderated panel discussion"

Economic News

The CHIPS Act signed into law earlier this month is designed to boost US semiconductor manufacturing by allocating billions of dollars for new fabrication facilities and jobs. Already, companies including Micron and Qualcomm have announced expansion plans that include adding thousands of US jobs. That’s good news—but the labor market is still tight, so thousands of new workers won’t be easy to find, especially for this kind of precise, highly technical work.

But at Lightcast, we want to help. While there are relatively few semiconductor manufacturing jobs in the US right now, our data can show what skills those occupations require. From there, the skills data can enable powerful new insights into how the industry can develop. 

Businesses and recruiters can identify potential candidates based on similar skills (requirements for Chemical Technicians, for example, overlap quite a bit with requirements for Semiconductor Technicians). Communities can use skills data about their current workforce to persuade businesses  they would be a good location for new development, while education institutions can offer courses that teach the skills required in the semiconductor industry.

The CHIPS Act presents significant growth opportunities for the semiconductor industry (and the countless industries that rely on it through computer chips). But unlocking the full potential of those possibilities will depend on who is able to make the best decisions about how to deploy those resources. For that, the right data will be the key.

Visit the Lightcast blog for more detail on the skills needed in the semiconductor industry and how to use data in understanding it. 

Of course, that’s not the economic news making the most headlines this week: that would be student loan relief in the US, with most borrowers seeing $10,000 canceled. While generally speaking, higher debt forces workers to make worse job choices, it’s difficult to say right now what economic impact we’ll see from this cancellation specifically. Student debt is just one aspect of the complex relationship between higher education and the labor market. 

But the magnitude of student debt does speak to how much of a financial investment higher education can be, and how important it is for students to get a good return on that investment. A few years ago (before rebranding to Lightcast) Burning Glass Technologies released Bad Bets: The High Cost of Failing Programs in Higher Education, a report analyzing how well new programs performed by looking at their degree conferrals.  

We found that many of those programs don’t pay off: Roughly half of the programs that first graduated students in the 2012-13 or 2013-14 academic years reported five or fewer conferrals in 2018, and about 30% reported no 2018 conferrals at all. The full report is available here, and keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a new version with updated data showing the pandemic’s impact as well.

In The Papers

This week’s paper is one of mine! “The Impact of Pay Transparency in Job Postings on the Labor Market,” written with David Arnold and Simon Quach, studies how the 2021 Colorado law that requires salary information in job postings has affected the labor market there. Advocates for pay transparency often talk about how it will reduce wage gaps and stagnation, but there had been very little empirical data to support that, especially not on a statewide scale. 

But now that we’ve seen the numbers, we can confirm: posted salaries rose an average of 3.6% after the policy was implemented—and I’ll be interested to see any potential policy impact that comes as a result. Using real-time data was a major component of this research: even though the Colorado law is relatively new (and there remains substantial non-compliance, according to Lightcast postings data) we were still able to process its impact without much lag. We got to enjoy the best of both worlds on this project: new, insightful research that confirms that workers are enjoying more prosperity and success.

Until next week, 

Bledi Taska

Lightcast Chief Economist

Subscribe to the Letter from the Chief Economist, delivered to your inbox every Thursday: