Mapping Career Paths in the U.S. Labor Market


Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), we analyze the mobility paths of young workers’ careers between 1979 and 2000. We identify three “mobility groups” in the U.S. labor market: (a) workers who are stuck in low-wage jobs over the long run; (b) workers who start out in low-wage jobs but then managed to escape them; and © workers who manage to avoid low-wage jobs altogether. Our focus is on uncovering the structure of low-wage careers, both in terms of what they have in common with, and what distinguishes them from, their more mobile counterparts. Using a novel method of matching and clustering, we are able to construct a meaningful typology of career trajectories based on the sequencing of industries, occupations, and movements in and out of labor market. This typology suggests that the bulk of low-wage careers are relatively stable and show strong industry-occupation patterning, and that job stability plays an important but highly contextualized role with respect to mobility. The typology also allows us to evaluate several quasi-experiments, isolating features that distinguish more mobile and less mobile careers with similar industry-occupation profiles.

Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Conference on Careers