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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, have a detrimental effect on jobs, whether that’s through increased unemployment, a change in job status (from full-time to part-time or contract work), or a reduction in work hours or wages. Different-sized firms may react differently to such shocks and a government’s choice of income security arrangement can also impact an economy’s ability to successfully navigate what may be a lengthy period of decline. What should governments be doing to manage their labor markets during recessions?

Read also about how recessions affect people.

  • 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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  • Do firms’ wage-setting powers increase during recessions?

    Monopsony models question the classic view of wage-setting and reveal a new reason why wages may decrease during recessions

    Todd Sorensen, April 2017
    Traditional models of the labor market typically assume that wages are set by the market, not the firm. However, over the last 15 years, a growing body of empirical research has provided evidence against this assumption. Recent studies suggest that a monopsonistic model, where individual firms and not the market set wages, may be more appropriate. This model attributes more wage-setting power to firms, particularly during economic downturns, which helps explain why wages decrease during recessions. This holds important implications for policymakers attempting to combat lost worker income during economic downturns.
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  • A flexicurity labor market during recession

    Long-term unemployment did not rise under the flexicurity model during the great recession, despite the large drop in GDP

    Torben M. Andersen, July 2015
    Before the great recession of 2008–2009, the “flexicurity” model (with flexibility for firms to adjust their labor force along with income security for workers through the social safety net) attracted attention for its ability to deliver low unemployment. But how did it fare during the recession, especially in Denmark, which has been highlighted as having a well-functioning flexicurity model? Flexible hiring and firing rules are expected to lead to large adjustments in employment in a recession. Did the high rate of job turnover continue or did long-term unemployment rise? And did the social safety net become overburdened?
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