What is labor economics?

The study of labor economics seeks to understand the relationship between workers and employers. It's important to society as it determines wages, the causes of discrimination, the impact of migration on employment, and how governments should manage recessions. 

  • Is unconditional basic income a viable alternative to other social welfare measures?

    Countries give basic education and health care to everyone, and for good reasons—why not basic income?

    Ugo Colombino, March 2019
    Globalization and automation have brought about a tremendous increase in productivity, with enormous benefits, but also a dramatic reallocation of jobs, skills, and incomes, which might jeopardize the full realization of those benefits. Current social policies may not be adequate to successfully redistribute the gains from automation and globalization or to advance the reallocation of jobs and skills. Under certain circumstances, an unconditional basic income might be a better alternative for achieving these goals. It is simple, transparent, and has low administrative costs, though it may require higher taxes or a cut/reallocation of other public expenditures.
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  • Employment effects of minimum wages

    When minimum wages are introduced or raised, are there fewer jobs?

    David Neumark, December 2018
    The potential benefits of higher minimum wages come from the higher wages for affected workers, some of whom are in poor or low-income families. The potential downside is that a higher minimum wage may discourage firms from employing the low-wage, low-skill workers that minimum wages are intended to help. If minimum wages reduce employment of low-skill workers, then minimum wages are not a “free lunch” with which to help poor and low-income families, but instead pose a trade-off of benefits for some versus costs for others. Research findings are not unanimous, but especially for the US, evidence suggests that minimum wages reduce the jobs available to low-skill workers.
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  • Does increasing the minimum wage reduce poverty in developing countries?

    Whether raising minimum wages reduces—or increases—poverty depends on the characteristics of the labor market

    T. H. Gindling, November 2018
    Raising the minimum wage in developing countries could increase or decrease poverty, depending on labor market characteristics. Minimum wages target formal sector workers—a minority in most developing countries—many of whom do not live in poor households. Whether raising minimum wages reduces poverty depends not only on whether formal sector workers lose jobs as a result, but also on whether low-wage workers live in poor households, how widely minimum wages are enforced, how minimum wages affect informal workers, and whether social safety nets are in place.
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  • Anonymous job applications and hiring discrimination

    Blind recruitment can level the playing field in access to jobs but cannot prevent all forms of discrimination

    Ulf Rinne, October 2018
    The use of anonymous job applications (or blind recruitment) to combat hiring discrimination is gaining attention and interest. Results from field experiments and pilot projects in European countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden are considered here), Canada, and Australia shed light on their potential to reduce some of the discriminatory barriers to hiring for minority and other disadvantaged groups. But although this approach can achieve its primary aims, there are also important cautions to consider.
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  • Are happy workers more productive?

    Firms’ concerns about the well-being of their employees are largely supported by the evidence

    Eugenio Proto, December 2016
    Recently, large companies like Google have made substantial investments in the well-being of their workers. While evidence shows that better performing companies have happier employees, there has been much less research on whether happy employees contribute to better company performance. Finding causal relations between employee well-being and company performance is important for firms to justify spending corporate resources to provide a happier work environment for their employees. While correlational and laboratory studies do find a positive relationship, the evidence remains sparse.
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  • Women’s labor force participation

    Family-friendly policies increase women’s labor force participation, benefiting them, their families, and society at large

    Anne E. Winkler, August 2016
    Female labor force participation is mainly driven by the value of women’s market wages versus the value of their non-market time. Labor force participation by women varies considerably across countries. To understand this international variation, one must further consider differences across countries in institutions, non-economic factors such as cultural norms, and public policies. Such differences provide important insights into what actions countries might take to further increase women’s participation in the labor market.
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