Sloan Grant Supports Construction of Powerful New Labor Database

Sloan Grant Supports Construction of Powerful New Labor Database

The internet and other advanced technologies have enabled more data collection than ever before on the United States economy and labor market. But because these datasets are largely sequestered between public resources from government agencies and private repositories kept by companies, economists cannot easily access the information they need to study jobs, in-demand skills, and recessions.

Removing the barriers between these valuable data sources is the goal of a partnership between the Center for Data Science and Public Policy (DSaPP) at the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Economic Council, called the Workforce Data Initiative. With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the collaboration will create a new resource, the Skills Cooperative Research Database, which will combine public and private data to stimulate economics and policy research on critical modern issues.

The project will integrate data from national administrative sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, with privately-held data from job websites, employment agencies, human resources management software, and many more entities. Ultimately, the work will create an unprecedented public resource of aggregated data from this diverse spectrum, available to users as API endpoints and downloads, as well as provide more detailed datasets to authorized researchers.

Once completed, the Skills Cooperative Research Database will be a shared public resource akin to the output of the Human Genome Project — containing the “DNA” of every job in America. Economists may use the database to study phenomena such as post-recession job recovery, worker mobility, and labor market resilience, or to build new predictive macroeconomic models. Employers and governments could also use the data to observe local and up-to-date trends in job skill supply and demand, guiding workforce training and recruitment programs.

“While many businesses have benefited from the rapid growth and increasing detail of economic data, researchers and the public sector have not fully seized upon this opportunity,” said Matt Gee, DSaPP research fellow and co-primary investigator on the project. “By making these public and private datasets accessible and linkable, while still protecting the privacy of individuals and data partners, this project opens up a new, rich vein of raw material for use in economics and policy.”

The Skills Cooperative Research Database builds upon 2014 and 2015 projects from the Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, which worked with similar data sources and created early versions of the resource. As part of the current project, DSaPP built the Open Skills Project, a representation of the data that provides insight on job skills clusters and demand over time.

“Too often, researchers are on their own when trying to access data,” says Daniel L. Goroff, Vice President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  “Everything has to be figured out from scratch, from negotiating agreements with data holders to wrangling the right files.  It’s inefficient and hinders research reproducibility.  The Skills Cooperative Database solves this problem for important kinds of labor market data, leaving economists free to do what they do best—economics.  This is a 21st century resource for 21st century scholarship.”

The project’s primary investigators are Gee and Ioana Marinescu, assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. The Workforce Data Initiative has also received funding from JP Morgan Philanthropies.