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Turbulent Firms, Turbulent Wages?

  • Diego Comin
  • Erica L. Groshen
  • Bess Rabin

Has greater turbulence among firms fueled rising wage instability in the U.S.? Gottschalk and Moffitt ([1994]) find that rising earnings instability was responsible for one third to one half of the rise in wage inequality during the 1980s. These growing transitory fluctuations remain largely unexplained. To help fill this gap, this paper further documents the recent rise in transitory fluctuations in compensation and investigates its linkage to the concurrent rise in volatility of firm performance documented by Comin and Mulani [2005] among others. After examining models that explain the relationship between firm and wage volatility, we investigate the linkage in three complementary panel data sets, each with its own virtues and limitations: the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (detailed information on workers, but no information on employers), COMPUSTAT (detailed firm information, but only average wage and employment levels about workers), and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland's Community Salary Survey (wages and employment for specific occupations for identified firms). We find complementary support for the hypothesis in all three data sets. We can rule out straightforward compositional churning as an explanation for the link to firm performance in high-frequency (over spans of 5 years) wage volatility, although not in more persistent fluctuations (between successive 5-year averages). We conclude that the rise in firm turbulence explains about sixty percent of the recent the rise in the high frequency (5-year) volatility of wages.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12032.

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Date of creation: Feb 2006
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Publication status: published as Comin, Diego, Erica Groshen and Bess Rabin. "Turbulent firms, turbulent wages?" Journal of Monetary Economics, vol. 56(1), pages 109-133, January 2009.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12032
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  1. Janet Currie & Sheena McConnell, 1992. "Firm-Specific Determinants of the Real Wage," NBER Working Papers 4023, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Diego Comin & Sunil Mulani, 2007. "A theory of growth and volatility at the aggregate and firm level," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
  3. Michael Kremer & Eric Maskin, 1996. "Wage Inequality and Segregation by Skill," NBER Working Papers 5718, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Diego Comin & Thomas Philippon, 2005. "The Rise in Firm-Level Volatility: Causes and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 11388, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Salop, Joanne & Salop, Steven, 1976. "Self-Selection and Turnover in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 619-27, November.
  6. Groshen, Erica L, 1991. "Sources of Intra-industry Wage Dispersion: How Much Do Employers Matter?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(3), pages 869-84, August.
  7. Abowd, John M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1993. "The Effects of Product Market Competition on Collective Bargaining Agreements: The Case of Foreign Competition in Canada," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(4), pages 983-1014, November.
  8. Mark Gertler & Simon Gilchrist, 1991. "Monetary Policy, Business Cycles and the Behavior of Small Manufacturing Firms," NBER Working Papers 3892, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2009. "Occupational Mobility and Wage Inequality," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(2), pages 731-759.
  10. Abowd, John M. & Kramarz, Francis & Margolis, David N. & Troske, Kenneth R., 2001. "The Relative Importance of Employer and Employee Effects on Compensation: A Comparison of France and the United States," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 419-436, December.
  11. Stephen Davis & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Javier Miranda, 2006. "Volatility and Dispersion in Business Growth Rates: Publicly Traded Versus Privately Held Firms," Working Papers 06-17, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  12. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  13. Joanne Salop & Steve Salop, 1976. "Self-selection and turnover in the labor market," Special Studies Papers 80, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  14. Michael Kremer & Eric Maskin, 1996. "Wage Inequality and Segregation," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1777, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  15. Richard B. Freeman, 2007. "Labor Market Institutions Around the World," NBER Working Papers 13242, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Diego Comin & Sunil Mulani, 2006. "Diverging Trends in Aggregate and Firm Volatility," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(2), pages 374-383, May.
  17. Erica L. Groshen, 1988. "Why do wages vary among employers?," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue Q I, pages 19-38.
  18. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2000. "Occupational Mobility and Wage Inequality, Second Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-026, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 15 Jun 2004.
  19. Bengt Holmstrom, 1982. "Moral Hazard in Teams," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 324-340, Autumn.
  20. Giovanni L. Violante, 2002. "Technological Acceleration, Skill Transferability, And The Rise In Residual Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 297-338, February.
  21. Robert A. Moffitt & Peter Gottschalk, 2002. "Trends in the Transitory Variance of Earnings in the United States," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages C68-C73, March.
  22. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
  23. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2005. "Rising Wage Inequality: The Role of Composition and Prices," NBER Working Papers 11628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 1994. "The Growth of Earnings Instability in the U.S. Labor Market," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 217-272.
  25. Comin, D. & Mulani, S., 2003. "Diverging Trends in Macro and Micro Volatility: Facts," Working Papers 03-08, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  26. David I. Levine & Dale Belman & Gary Charness & Erica L. Groshen & K.C. O'Shaughnessy, 2002. "How New is the "New Employment Contract"? Evidence from North American Pay Practices," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number nec, December.
  27. Erica Groshen, 1996. "American employer salary surveys and labor economics research: issues and contributions," Research Paper 9604, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
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