Cornell professor Gary S. Fields is the winner of the 2014 IZA Prize in Labor Economics for his outstanding contributions on the importance of efficient labor markets to fight poverty and foster economic development in low- and middle-income countries. Worth 50,000 euros, the IZA Prize is regarded as the most prestigious science award in the field. The award ceremony will take place during the ASSA annual meeting in Boston on January 4, 2015.
According to the award statement from the IZA Prize Committee, Fields pioneered economic thinking about labor markets in developing countries by focusing on indicators such as poverty, inequality and income mobility. Fields’ policy recommendations aim at increasing the level and security of wages for employees and self-employed by incentivizing investments in the private sector, growth and international trade, and by providing the necessary skills and business know-how to stimulate labor demand. In this respect, Fields also shows the shortcomings of previous development aid, which had not sufficiently targeted labor market needs.
In his groundbreaking book “Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey” (2012) Fields illustrates that global poverty is a problem of the quality of employment; not, as widely believed, a matter of high unemployment rates, which are often lower in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. A key problem is the lack of social insurance systems. Given that many jobs in developing countries are unstable and earnings are extremely low, people are unable to overcome the status of “working poor” and thus remain in poverty even when employed.
IZA Director Klaus F. Zimmermann underscored the immediate policy relevance of Fields’ research: “Fighting global poverty is the core task of international development aid. Gary Fields has shown that we need to evaluate existing programs and focus on the creation of more and better jobs.”
See some of Gary’s recent work was published at IZA:
- Self-employment and poverty in developing countries (IZA World of Labor)
- Challenges and policy lessons for the growth-employment-poverty nexus in developing countries (IZA Journal of Labor Policy)
IZA Newsroom interview — 3 questions for Gary Fields:
How would you describe the policy relevance of your research?
Gary Fields: Most people derive most if not all of their income from the work they and other family members do. It follows that to assure that economic development reaches the poor, development efforts must be targeted on improving employment and earnings of low-income households.
What should be the goal of development policy?
Fighting poverty must be the focus of development efforts. Helping the poor earn their way out of poverty is a laudable goal and can serve as a rallying cry for national and international action.
How can developing countries create more and better jobs?
Some interventions are direct labor market policies: enhancing wage and salaried employment and raising the returns to self-employment. Others impinge upon labor markets: stimulating economic growth, pursuing international trade opportunities, and channeling foreign aid toward improving employment opportunities.
View also the keynote speech by Gary Fields at the latest IZA/World Bank conference in Lima, Peru:
…and a recent contribution to the World Bank blog:
A Better Life for the Developing World’s Self-Employed