Labor Economics

This course is a study of the role of labor in the economy and of the models economists use to analyze it, from a reformed Christian perspective I hope that it will help to equip you for Christian service as a citizen and participant in the economy. I assume all students have a basic knowledge of economics, especially microeconomics, at the introductory course level. If you feel weak in this area please talk with me about this.

The basic text for the course is The Economics of Labor Markets, 5th edition, by Bruce Kaufinan and Julie Hotchkiss. Some supplementary readings are listed on this syllabus, and others may be assigned during the course of the semester. These supplementary readings will be put on reserve in the library unless otherwise announced. You should carefully read the assigned material before the class period for which it is assigned. This is especially important since I hope to cover much of the material via class discussion rather than formal lecture. After you have read a chapter, think about the “Review Questions” that follow it in the text (we will discuss some of them in class).

I suggest that you each find one or more other students in the class to work with. A good test of whether you understand a concept and its application is whether or not you can explain it to another person, and the process of explaining it to someone else will reinforce your understanding and memory of the concept. I also suggest that you each make an outline of the major points of each chapter as you study it. Exchanging these outlines with your study partner(s) may help you to check your understanding of the chapters.

There will be a midterm and a final exam, on the dates listed on the schedule that follows.

In order to be excused from taking an examination at its scheduled time you must have a valid excuse (such as serious illness) and must contact me in advance of the scheduled time for the exam

In addition each student will either: a) volunteer to work 15-20 hours for an organization that assists people who have problems gaining adequate employment, and write an organizational profile, keep a journal which reflects on and analyzes his or her experiences at the organization, and write a final paper relating his or her experience to the labor market theories studied in the course, or b) write an analytical paper based on “library research”. More information on each of these options will be distributed separately.

In determining the final grade for the course, the mid-term exam will count 30%, the service-learning project or paper will count 30%, and the final exam will count 40%.

Any student who has a grade point average of 3.3 or higher and would like to take this course for honors credit should talk to me about this early in the semester.

An e-mail list-serve for the class will be established as an additional means of communication among us.

Spring, 2000

I. Goal: To increase students’ understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the economic analysis of labor markets, and their understanding of and concern for outcomes of labor markets which are harmful to individuals and families, such as long-term unemployment, underemployment, and discrimination, and ways to alleviate these harmful outcomes.

II. Objectives:

    • A. Knowledge Objectives:

1. Learn about an organization, which is working to help those who are having difficulty in the labor market: its goals and objectives, its structure, its activities, its sources of support, its impacts.

2. Learn about at least 3 cases of unemployment or underemployment: education/employment history of the person, attempts to find employment, effects on family, present situation, what is being done to help them.

B. Skills Objectives:

1. Improve ability to apply economic theories to actual situations, using them to help understand the situation.

2. Improve ability to use actual situations and experiences to evaluate the adequacy of economic theories.

3. Improve expository writing skills.

4. Possibly improve problem-solving skills, depending on particular service assignment.

C. Attitudes Values/Commitment Objectives:

1. Form or deepen a concern for those for whom the labor market does not give good outcomes.

2. Form or deepen a commitment to use available opportunities to help those for whom the labor market does not give good outcomes.

D. Service Objective:

Provide assistance to an organization, which is helping people who are having difficulty in the labor market.

III. Service Activities:

Each student will spend 15-20 hours over the course of 8-10 weeks working for an organization helping the unemployed or underemployed to find jobs, which fit their needs. Placements with Goodwill Industries are being arranged through the Service-Learning Center; more information on them will be distributed separately. A student may arrange a placement with another organization if desired (talk to me if you want to attempt to do this). The work can be varied in line with what would be helpful to the organization and the particular abilities of the student. It might involve working directly with some of their clients. It could involve research in libraries or via computer networks for the organization, or contacting other organizations (private or governmental) regarding some topic for which the organization needs more information. It might involve writing materials for an organization to be used in their programs or in publicity. It might involve some statistical analysis for the organization. It might involve work that is not directly related to economic knowledge, such as office work, if that would be helpful to the organization, and means were provided for the student to learn about the work of the agency. The service in such a case, while perhaps not directly, a source of much learning, would be “payment” to the organization for the time it spent helping the student learn about it and its clients. A project could involve more than one student if it would be too large for one student to complete in 15-20 hours.

Each student should have the opportunity to learn about the organization and its activities, and the opportunity to learn about at least three people that the organization is working to help. (It is preferable that they meet these people in person, but if that are not possible, they could be “briefed” on them, with names withheld if this is necessary for confidentiality.)

IV. Requirements for the Students (in addition to the hours of service):

    • A. Write an organizational profile (about 4 pages: due March 9)


    • which includes the following elements:

1. Mission of the organization: What are its major goals and objectives? Have they set priorities among them? If so, what are they?

2. Structure of the organization: Draw an organizational chart for the organization, or otherwise describe its structure. How are decisions made in the organization, and by whom? (This may vary for different types of decisions.)

3. Personnel of the organization (or of the unit you are working with, if the organization is large): Who are they? (This may be included with the organization chart). For a few of the people you are working with: What is their background? How did they get their jobs? Why are they working for this organization?

4. Support of the Organization: What are the sources of funds and the amounts received from each? Is the funding adequate for the mission of the organization? Is it adequate for the current level of operation of the organization?

5. Measurement of success: How does the organization measure its effectiveness and efficiency in meeting its goals and objectives? How successful is it by these measures?

B. Keep a journal reflecting on and analyzing your experiences. You should have an entry for each time you are at the organization for work or orientation. The journal should include things such as the following:

1. The time you spent and what you did on that occasion.

2. How the experience contributed to your learning and/or personal growth: what did you learn, for example, about the organization, about its clients, about labor markets, about labor economics models and theories and their strengths or weaknesses, about yourself? What was the value of the experience to you?

3. The value of your activity to the organization and/or the people it is helping.

Notes: The journal can be in a less formal style than the organizational profile and final paper. It may be handwritten (legibly). If you do a good job of keeping the journal it will be a good resource for the organizational profile and final paper. Submit the journal for review after you have done 2 or 3 entries, and again with the draft and final versions of the final paper.

C. Write a final paper (of about 8 pages) relating what you experienced and learned to concepts, models, and theories of labor economics, both positive and normative. Use labor economics to evaluate and interpret your experience at the organization. For example: Why is an organization like this necessary or useful (or isn’t it)? What are the successes of the agency? What are its problems? What could be done to solve the problems? What does your experience teach you about the working of labor markets in the United States? How does your experience and the work of the agency help you to understand and evaluate various aspects of labor economics theory? What strengths does it have? What weaknesses? A draft of this paper is due at the beginning of class April 25, and the final version at the beginning of class May 9. (I’ll give you comments on your draft between these dates.) Submit an outline with both the draft and the final version. The comments on the second page of the Paper Assignment also apply to formal written work for the Service-Learning Project.

V. Requirements for the Organization:

    • A. Screen the students for suitability for the tasks available.

B. Orient the student to the organization; give access to information necessary to do the organizational profile.

C. Provide 15-20 hours of work over an 8-10 week period that will be useful to the organization.

D. Provide an opportunity for the student to learn about the situations of at least three clients of the organization.

E. Provide whatever supervision is necessary while the students are performing the service.

F. Provide a statement of the amount, nature, and quality of the student’s work to the instructor of the course.

Service-Learning in Economics 335, Labor Economics

For several years I have encouraged my Labor Economics students to do a service-learning project (I still offer a more traditional research paper as an option for those for whom the service-learning project is not feasible). The service-learning project requires working 15-20 hours over the course of the semester for an organization helping the unemployed or underemployed to find jobs which fit their needs. Based on this experience and their other course work they write an organizational profile and keep a journal reflecting on their experiences and the relation of what they learned to labor economics theories. At the end of the semester they write a final paper relating what they have experienced and learned to concepts, models, and theories of labor economics.

My goal for this project is: “To increase students’ understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the economic analysis of labor markets, and their understanding of and concern for outcomes of labor markets which are harmful to individuals and families, such as long-term unemployment, underemployment, and discrimination, and ways to alleviate these harmful outcomes.” For the last two years, the students have done their service at Goodwill Industries, which has a number of programs helping those with difficulty in obtaining and keeping employment to do so. The students have had the opportunity to work with a knowledgeable and caring staff, and have come to understand the difficulties some have in becoming self-supporting, even in a booming economy, and the role of agencies such as Goodwill in helping them. They have, in general, also come to understand some of the usefulness and limitations of standard labor economics theories in analyzing aspects of the economy, often better than many who do traditional research papers. Their experiences can be drawn into class discussions of topics such as discrimination and unemployment. And many testify to an increased awareness of the difficulties some face in becoming self-supporting, and a commitment to use opportunities they have later in life to helping such people. Thus I continue to see this as a very useful learning experience, and encourage my students to chose this rather than the research paper, if possible.

Paper Assignment
If you choose to write a research paper rather than do the service-learning project, you are to write a 8-12 page analytical paper on some topic related to labor economics. It should not be just an uncritical report on a number of books or articles, but should apply the theory of labor economics (or some aspect of it) to some situation or question, or critically examine an aspect of the theory itself.

The following are some examples of possible topics to illustrate what I mean, but these are not any better than many other topics, so do not limit yourself to these ideas. You could discuss the history of a particular union in light of various theories of unionism and show to what extent this case supports the theories, which theories are helpful in explaining its history, and to what extent it does not confirm the theories. You might discuss a particular poverty program in light of the causes of poverty, conditions of the poor, and other social conditions and institutions; or you could investigate the problems of discrimination in employment in Grand Rapids in light of theories of discrimination and suggest programs to deal with the problem here. You could give a critique of some aspect of theory or practice dealing with labor economics from a Christian perspective. Other possibilities include studies of some aspect of education or training, perhaps locally, in light of the theory of human capital; of collective bargaining of teachers, other government officials, farm workers, or other specific groups in light of the theories of unionism and collective bargaining; or of some political proposals dealing with labor (e.g., proposals to increase the minimum wage or change the laws regarding unions and collective bargaining), in the light of the above theories. Or you could study the changes in wage or income differentials over time in light of the relevant labor economics theories. Choose your own topic; any topic related to labor economics is acceptable as long as it is treated analytically.

I will be happy to discuss your topic or possible topics with you at any time. I may be able to give you some hints regarding sources or lines of development, or warn you if I think you may be attempting something too broad. In any case you should give me a written statement of your proposed topic no latter than the beginning of class, Tuesday, February 29.

A draft of your paper, including an outline, must be submitted to me no later than the beginning class, Tuesday, April 18. I will read the draft and have a conference with each of you concerning your paper, after which you will have the opportunity to make revisions in it. I would appreciate having any drafts which are finished before April 18 handed in to me when they are ready; this will enable me to have conferences with you sooner, and give you more time to make revisions. The final version of the paper, including an outline, is due at the beginning of class, Tuesday, May 9.

On pages 329-335 of the text, Kaufman and Hotchkiss list many useful sources of information concerning labor economics. The Review of Social Economy and Journal of Economic Perspectives could be added to their list of academic journals. To find information in these and other sources you could begin with the catalog of the Calvin Library, and the indexes and databases there (most of them are now computerized). Much information is available on the Internet; in addition to the sites mentioned in the text, the Bureau of Labor Statistics site ( has a wealth of information, as does the Datazone section of the Economic Policy Institute ( The Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and the National Journal found in the reference section of the Calvin Library provide useful up-to-date information on current government policies and policy proposals. And the government documents section of the Calvin Library has a wealth of information. Pages 14 and 15 of the “Economics and Business Pocket Advisor” have more information on resources in Calvin’s Library, and the Library can give you more up-to-date information on computerized resources.

Be sure that you do not plagiarize when writing your paper. If you take any significant combinations of words from a source you must use quotation marks and a footnote or endnote to indicate this, even if the words quoted are not a complete sentence. (In any case, it is not good form to quote extensively from a source, even if you change a few words in each sentence.) Even if you do not use the exact words of a source, if you take a significant idea or information from a source you must indicate that with a footnote or endnote. To take words or ideas from a source without giving proper credit is theft. For more information on this, see the “English Department Policy on Plagiarism”, and the Student Conduct Code, Articles I.14, V.B.1, V.D and V.E.

Your paper (or a major part of it) must not have been submitted to another class for credit in the past, nor should it be submitted to another class for credit without the express permission of myself and the other instructor (in any case where that would be acceptable, I would require a more extensive paper if it is to fulfill two requirements).

Your draft and final version should have a bibliography listing the sources you used in writing the paper, as well as footnotes. You may use any standard format for the footnotes and bibliography as long as you are consistent and include all the necessary information. Also include in the bibliography the call number for any sources from the Calvin Library, and indicate where you obtained any other sources. For items from the internet, include the URL, and the date of access to the material.

Your paper should not contain grammatical or spelling errors, and the exposition should be clear and well-developed.

The Rhetoric Center is a good source of assistance for those of you who would like help in improving your paper. This is not just for those who are poor writers.

Although content is more important than size, if you use fonts or margins that result in less than about 270 words per page I will expect more pages.

School: Calvin College
Professor: G. Monsma
  • update-img-new

    Get updates on what's new in the Campus Compact Network