Job Upgrading and Earnings Growth for Non-College Workers

Publication Date


Grant Type

Early Career Research Grant


In this project, we aim to test this idea by providing the first ever match between linked employer-employee Census data and task data from online job postings. We use this to determine whether job upgrading increases pay for non-college workers, and specifically assess which types of job upgrades do so. By following worker earnings trajectories over time, we distinguish instances of job upgrading that change sorting of workers into jobs, from job upgrading that provides reliable wage premiums for a consistent set of workers. Doing this helps distinguish among different competing theoretical explanations for job-specific pay effects: on-the-job learning (Lynch,1992), activating underutilized human capital (Blairet al., 2020), or increasing worker bargaining power (Osterman, 2006; Wilmers, 2020).

Our new matched data covers all industries and occupations, and therefore also allows us to conduct case studies of job upgrading proposals in specific occupations. We hope to use these case studies to provide actionable results for policy makers and employers. For example, in a preliminary case study of retail clerks, we find that while retail jobs that incorporate communication skills provide a 15% earnings premium, half of this is accounted for by worker selection. In contrast, the pay premium associated with computer literacy is durable and not explained by selection. Results like these can help employers, newly concerned about attracting new workers, to redesign frontline jobs.