ECON303: Labor Economics

Course Syllabus for "ECON303: Labor Economics"

In economics, the term "labor" refers to workers.  As a factor of production, labor earns wages for the services that it renders.  As such, students of labor economics have traditionally set out to understand wage formation, the level of employment, and all elements that go into the making of a wage relationship.  Over the years, the social and economic contexts in which labor markets operate have become increasingly complex; nowadays, labor economics is no longer limited to the study of wages.  Modern labor economics instead seeks to understand the complex workings of the labor market by studying the dynamics between employers, employees, and their wage-, price-, and profit-making incentives.  In other words, modern labor economics explores the outcomes of the labor market under the assumption that workers strive to maximize their wellbeing and firms strive to maximize profits.  It also analyzes the behavior of employers and employees and studies their responses to changes in government policies and/or in the demographic composition of the labor force. In order to study how labor markets work, we must first build a good theory of the labor market with empirical implications that can be tested with real world data.  This course is accordingly designed to teach both fact and theory.  By looking at facts through data and empirical findings, we can better understand the mechanisms of the labor market.  The theory, on the other hand, will help us in understanding how this data is generated. Prior to taking this course, you should have completed ECON101: Principles of Microeconomics or, at a minimum, have a basic understanding of the topics covered in microeconomics—namely, the demand and supply model and the concept of elasticity.  The purpose of this course is to teach you how workers and firms make decisions in the labor market.  The course will also teach you how the government can alter the economic opportunities available to both workers and firms by changing the "rules of the game" through social policies, thus influencing the decisions of these two players.  At the end of the course, you should be able to use the tools learned in this course to understand, analyze, and predict some of labor market outcomes and examine the different ways social policy can affect the interaction between workers and firms.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of basic labor economics theory, including labor market structures and wage determination.
  • Apply their understanding of theoretical models to analyze trends in data pertaining to topics in labor economics.
  • Apply their understanding of theoretical models to case studies presented in the course.
  • Construct, defend, and analyze important labor policy issues.
  • Comprehend, assess, and criticize existing empirical work in labor economics.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, students must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash) and software.

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language. 

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed ECON101: Principles of Microeconomics or at least have a knowledge of the demand and supply model and the concept of elasticity.

Course Information

Welcome to ECON303. Below, please find general information on the course, including its requirements. 

Course Designer: Jubeet Kaur Singh

Primary Resource: The study material for this course includes a range of free online content.  However, the following material has been assigned as the main reading for the course:

Requirements for completion: In order to successfully complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and its assigned material.  Please note that this course is designed to teach theory and the application of it and as such, it includes a lot of examples and assessments along with the reading material.  In order to ensure a thorough understanding of each topic, it is imperative that you complete all the assessments after you go through the study material.

Note that you will be officially graded only for the final exam.  In order to "pass" the course, you will have to attain a minimum of 70% on the final exam.  Your score on the final exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  You will have the opportunity to retake the exam if you do not pass it.

Time Commitment: This course should take you approximately 92 hours to complete.  A time advisory is presented under each subunit to guide you on the amount of time that you may need for that subunit.  The running time for the video lectures is also listed, along with the time required for assessments and/or assignments (if any).  Please do not rush through the material to adhere to the time advisory.  The time advisory is provided so that you can look at the time suggested in order to plan out your week for study and make your schedule accordingly.  For example, Unit 1 should take you about 7 hours to complete.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 and 1.2 (a total of 3 hours) on Monday night, subunit 1.3 (a total of 2.5 hours) on Tuesday night, and subunit 1.4 (a total of 1.5 hours) on Wednesday night, and so forth.

Tips/Suggestions: As you read, it would be helpful if you simultaneously try to recreate the graphs on a separate sheet of paper and learn the mechanics of how the graphs change.  Practice the graphs on your own (and often) before moving on to the next topic.  Also make sure to mark down any concepts or definitions that stand out to you.  Preparing personal notes can be useful as a "cheat sheet" for review prior to taking the final exam.

The theoretical concepts presented in this course are pretty simple and logical, and what makes this course extremely interesting is its connection to the real world.  Although it is important to learn the theory behind every topic, it is more important to understand the techniques of labor market analysis and important economic and policy issues dealing with labor and labor markets.  To this end, it is important that you thoroughly understand the examples and the facts that are connected to every topic. 

Apart from reading the material presented in this course, students of labor economicsare encouraged to form a regular habit of reading news articles that are relevant to the issues covered in this course.  Good sources are The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week.  Other important resources are the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website or a labor and economics blog maintained at UC Berkeley.