Factors that improve resilience at work in North American cities have been identified


PICTURE: Researchers analyzed two cities in the United States – Burlington (Vermont) and Bloomington (Indiana) – which are the same size and have the same percentage of occupations but are … see After

Credit: UC3M

The researchers in this study came to this conclusion by drawing on research on network modeling and mapping job landscapes in cities across the United States during economic crises.

Knowing and understanding which factors contribute to healthy labor markets is interesting because it can help promote a faster recovery after a crisis, such as a major economic recession or the current COVID pandemic. Traditional studies perceive the worker as a person linked to a specific job in a sector. However, in the real world, professionals often end up working in other industries that require similar skills. In this sense, researchers see labor markets as something similar to ecosystems, where organisms are linked in a complex web of interactions.

In this context, an efficient labor market depends on many aspects, such as the diversity and number of job vacancies or training opportunities available to workers to acquire new skills, for example. In this scientific study, the researchers found that cities where all of these factors are very similar react differently when it comes to exiting an economic crisis. Why? “We found that the difference comes, in part, from the jobs’ map, a network that tells us how jobs in a city relate, based on the similarity of skills required to perform those jobs,” says Esteban. Moro, associate professor in the mathematics department at UC3M and co-author of the study, currently visiting professor at MIT Media Lab.

“When this card is extremely limited, that is, when there is very little chance of finding another similar job (what we call ‘job connectivity”), cities are less prepared to a jobs crisis. On the other hand, when this card offers a lot of possibilities to move from one job to another similar one, the city is better prepared. This also has an effect on the wages of workers: workers in cities who have a more diversified network earn more than those of the same profession in cities where this network is more limited, ”adds Esteban Moro.

Ecology, complex networks and job connectivity

In ecology and other fields where complex networks are present, resilience has been closely linked to the “connectivity” of networks. In nature, for example, ecosystems with many connections have been shown to be more resistant to certain shocks (such as changes in acidity or temperature) than those with fewer connections. Inspired by this idea and building on previous research on network modeling, the study authors modeled the relationships between jobs in several cities in the United States. Just as connectivity in nature promotes resilience, they predicted that cities with jobs linked by overlapping skills and geography would fare better in the face of an economic shock than those without such networks.

In order to validate this, the researchers looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all metropolitan areas in the United States from the start to the end of the Great Recession (2008-2014). Based on this data, they created maps of the employment landscape in each region, including the number of specific jobs, their geographic distribution, and the extent to which the skills they needed overlapped with each other. other jobs in the area. The size of a given city, as well as the diversity of its jobs, played a role in resilience, with larger and more diverse cities outperforming smaller, less diverse cities. However, by controlling for size and diversity and accounting for job connectivity, peak unemployment rate forecasts during the recession have improved significantly. In other words, cities with higher employment connectivity before the crash were significantly more resilient and recovered faster than those with less connected markets.

Even in the absence of temporary crises like the Great Recession or the COVID pandemic, phenomena, such as automation, could dramatically change the employment landscape in many fields in the years to come. How can cities prepare for this disruption? The researchers in this study extended their model to predict the behavior of labor markets in the face of job loss due to automation. They found that while cities of similar size would be similarly affected in the early stages of automation shocks, those with well-connected job networks would provide better opportunities for displaced workers to find other jobs. This avoids widespread unemployment and, in some cases, even leads to the creation of additional jobs as a result of the initial automation shock.

The results of this study suggest that policymakers should consider job connectivity when planning for the future of employment in their regions, especially where automation is expected to replace large numbers of jobs. Furthermore, increased connectivity not only leads to lower unemployment, it also contributes to an increase in overall wages. These findings offer a new perspective on discussions about the future of employment and can help guide and complement current decisions about investments in job creation and training programs, the researchers say.


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