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Economics 480

ECON 480: Labor Problems

Prerequisite: ECON 106

Credit Hours: (3)

Covers history of the labor movement, union-management relations, the non-unionized worker, wage theory, and unemployment in context of the application of economic theory to problems of labor.


Detailed Description of Content of the Course

The primary objective of this course is to introduce students to the recent history of U.S. labor policy, trends in employment, unemployment, wages and income distribution, and theoretical explanations for these policies and labor market outcomes. With regard to the latter, the course is designed to introduce the students to both neoclassical and institutional explanations of the wage determination process. When taught as an oral-intensive course it also includes very close scrutiny of the most recent labor policy debates.

Topic Outline

1. Historical Background of Labor Policy
2. Labor Demand and Supply
3. A Model of the Firm's Demand for Labor
4. A Model of the Household's Supply of Labor
5. Wage Determination in a Perfectly Competitive Market
6. Labor Market in the Real World
7. The Distribution of Income and Wealth
8. Imperfect Market Structures in Neoclassical Theory
9. Structural Theories of Imperfect Labor Markets: Unions, Human Capital Theory, Segmented Labor Markets


Detailed Description of Conduct of the Course

The following teaching strategies will be employed:

  • Lectures, discussion, student debates on selected topics which require substantial research and oral presentations.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

1. Explain the shift from Keynesian high wage labor policies in the 1960s and 1970s to labor cost containment policies in the 1980s and 1990s.
2. Discuss recent trends in the demand for labor: types of jobs, employment levels, unemployment, foreign competition.
3. Discussed demographic changes in labor supply: population growth, race, gender, and age composition.
4. Examine those theoretical factors that determine the firm's demand for labor and constitute its derived nature.
5. Examine those theoretical factors that determine the household supply of labor.
6. Demonstrate how the interaction of firm demand for and household supply of labor determine the equilibrium wage rate in a perfectly competitive market structure.
7. Examine the effects of shifts in demand and supply on the equilibrium wage rate.
8. Discuss the operation of the labor market in reality with respect to employment (occupational structure) and wage structures.
9. Discuss labor market outcomes during the 1980s and 1990s as evidenced in the distribution of income and the distribution of wealth.
10. Demonstrate the effect of monopoly in the product market on wage determination.
11. Demonstrate the effect of oligopoly in the product market on wage determination.
12. Demonstrate the effect of monopsony in the labor market on wage determination.
13. Examines theoretically the effect of labor unions on the wage determination process using wage-employment preference paths.
14. Discuss the importance of differing levels of human capital to the distribution of jobs and wages in the economy.
15. Discuss the decision-making process involved in both public and private investments in improving human capital.
16. Introduce the notion of a heterogeneous labor supply and job content to the discussion of wage determination.
17. Examine the theoretical underpinnings of segmented labor markets.
18. Compare human capital and segmented labor market theories of wage determination and income distribution.


Assessment Measures

  • Test I 20%
  • Test II 20%
  • Test III 20%
  • Debate Project 25%
  • Final 15%


 Other Course Information

This course is usually taught as an oral-intensive course under the auspices of Radford's Oral Communication Program.


Review and Approval

September 7, 2001 N. Hashemzadeh, Chair
Revised 4/13/09    Charles Vehorn
April 16, 2012 Revised