Susan Houseman wins Society of Labor Economists prize

Houseman portrait horizontal

Susan Houseman, the Upjohn Institute’s vice president and director of research, received the 2023 Society of Labor Economists Prize for Contributions in Data and Measurement May 12 at SOLE’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. The prize, awarded every other year, recognizes “exemplary contributions to the development of new data sets, new approaches to measurement, or innovations in data collection.”

Houseman’s research on data and measurement issues has two strands. The first studies issues related to price deflators and their implications for output and productivity measurement. Her work showed that the apparent robust output and productivity growth in U.S. manufacturing since the 1980s was largely the result of technical adjustments to price deflators in the computer industry, masking substantial weakness in much of the sector. These findings helped undermine the popular narrative that the U.S. manufacturing sector is strong and that rapid productivity growth caused by automation was largely responsible for the decline of manufacturing employment in the 2000s.

Her work also pointed to an “offshoring bias” in the measurement of imports. Because of this bias, the surge of low-cost imports from China and other countries in the early 2000s was understated in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, and domestic manufacturing output and productivity was significantly overstated.

A second strand of Houseman’s research studies outsourcing and contract work arrangements. Recent work indicates that because of problems in standard household survey questions, many independent contractors are miscoded as employees. Low-educated, minority, and younger workers are more likely to be miscoded, and the research finds that properly coding these workers alters the demographic profile of the independent contractor workforce. Several studies also document the extensive use of staffing agency workers among U.S. manufacturers and examine its implications for productivity measurement and firms’ demand for worker skills.

Houseman has chaired committees advising the Bureau of Labor Statistics on measuring work arrangements in the Contingent Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey and in the 2026 cohort planned for the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. She codirected two conference and research projects funded by the Sloan Foundation on measuring globalization. She also chairs the BLS Technical Advisory Committee and codirects the Upjohn Institute’s Outsourcing Research Network, funded by the Sloan Foundation.

Selected research by Houseman on prices, output, and productivity measurement:

"Understanding the Decline of U.S. Manufacturing Employment"

"Measuring Manufacturing: How the Computer and Semiconductor Industries Affect the Numbers and Perceptions"  (with Tim Bartik and Tim Sturgeon)

"Offshoring Bias in U.S. Manufacturing" (with Christopher Kurz, Paul Lengermann, and Benjamin Mandel)

Selected research by Houseman on contract work:

“The Independent Contractor Workforce: New Evidence on Its Size and Composition and Ways to Improve Its Measurement in Household Surveys” (with Katharine Abraham, Brad Hershbein, and Beth Truesdale)

“Contract Work at Older Ages” (with Katharine Abraham and Brad Hershbein)

"Manufacturers' Outsourcing to Staffing Services"  (with Matthew Dey and Anne Polivka)

Date: May 15, 2023