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How should governments manage recessions?

Recessions, like the Great Recession that affected labor markets around the globe during the late 2000s and those that countries are now experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, have a detrimental effect on jobs and people. The negative impacts can see increased unemployment (particularly among youth), changes in job status (from full-time to part-time or contract work), or a decrease in work hours (short-time work) or wages. They may also lead to persistent reductions in an entire generation’s future earnings, while the job insecurity experienced by workers may impair their physical and mental health. Given that the current pandemic doesn’t look like abating in the near future, what should governments be doing to help their labor markets and workers during such a prolonged period of economic uncertainty?

  • Health effects of job insecurity Updated

    Job insecurity adversely affects health, but employability policies and otherwise better job quality can mitigate the effects

    Francis Green, December 2020
    The fear of unemployment has increased around the world in the wake of Covid-19. Research has shown that job insecurity affects both mental and physical health, though the effects are lower when employees are easily re-employable. The detrimental effects of job insecurity could be partly mitigated if employers improved other aspects of job quality that support better health. But as job insecurity is felt by many more people than just the unemployed, the negative health effects during recessions are multiplied and extend through the majority of the population. This reinforces the need for effective, stabilising macroeconomic policies, most especially at this time of pandemic.
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  • Short-time work compensation schemes and employment Updated

    Temporary government schemes can have a positive economic effect

    Pierre Cahuc, May 2019
    Government schemes that compensate workers for the loss of income while they are on short hours (known as short-time work compensation schemes) make it easier for employers to temporarily reduce hours worked so that labor is better matched to output requirements. Because the employers do not lay off these staff, the schemes help to maintain permanent employment levels during recessions. However, they can create inefficiency in the labor market, and might limit labor market access for freelancers and those looking to work part-time.
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  • Why does part-time employment increase in recessions?

    Jobs can change quickly from full- to part-time status, especially during economic downturns

    Daniel Borowczyk-Martins, October 2017
    The share of workers employed part-time increases substantially in economic downturns. How should this phenomenon be interpreted? One hypothesis is that part-time jobs are more prevalent in sectors that are less sensitive to the business cycle, so that recessionary changes in the sectoral composition of employment explain the increase in part-time employment. The evidence shows, however, that this hypothesis only accounts for a small part of the story. Instead, the growth of part-time work operates mainly through reductions in working hours in existing jobs.
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  • Hours vs employment in response to demand shocks

    Evaluating the labor market effects of temporary aggregate demand shocks requires analyzing both employment and hours of work

    Robert A. Hart, October 2017
    Labor market responses to temporary aggregate demand shocks are commonly analyzed and discussed in terms of changes in employment and unemployment. However, it can be seriously misleading to ignore the interrelated behavior of hours worked. Work hours can be altered relatively speedily and flexibly, and this strongly relates to employment, labor productivity, and unemployment outcomes. The hours–employment distinction is especially important in the evaluation of the performances of European labor markets during the negative shock experienced during the Great Recession.
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  • Unemployment and the role of supranational policies

    EU supranational policies should be more active at promoting institutional reforms that reduce unemployment

    Juan F. Jimeno, October 2017
    Unemployment in Europe is excessively high on average, and is divergent across countries and population groups within countries. On the one hand, over the past decades, national governments have implemented incomplete institutional reforms to amend dysfunctional labor markets. On the other hand, EU supranational policies—those that transcend national boundaries and governments—have offered only limited financial support for active labor market policies, instead of promoting structural reforms aimed at improving the functioning of European labor markets. Better coordination and a wider scope of EU supranational policies is needed to fight unemployment more effectively.
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  • Firm size and business cycles

    Do small businesses shed proportionately more jobs than large businesses during recessions?

    Tulio A. Cravo, June 2017
    The discussion on how economic activity affects employment in large and small businesses is critical for the formulation of labor policies, especially during recessions. Knowing how firm size is related to job creation and job destruction is important to design effective policies aimed at dampening employment fluctuations. Recent evidence for developed countries indicates that large firms are proportionately more sensitive to cycles than small firms; however, this pattern is not confirmed for periods of credit constraint or in a developing country context, where small businesses might be more sensitive due to more extreme credit constraints.
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