Labor markets and institutions

Institutions have important consequences for the performance of households, companies, governments, and entire markets—they determine the welfare of nations. Contributions to this subject area explore the underlying mechanisms and the politico-economic determinants of such structures. Many provide background analyses that offer evidence on how new institutions and policies would affect labor markets.

  • How should job displacement wage losses be insured?

    Wage losses upon re-employment can seriously harm long-tenured displaced workers if they are not properly insured

    Donald O. Parsons, June 2018
    Job displacement represents a serious earnings risk to long-tenured workers through lower re-employment wages, and these losses may persist for many years. Moreover, this risk is often poorly insured, although not for a lack of policy interest. To reduce this risk, most countries mandate scheduled wage insurance (severance pay), and it is voluntarily provided in others. Actual-loss wage insurance is uncommon, although perceived difficulties may be overplayed. Both approaches offer the hope of greater consumption smoothing, with actual-loss plans carrying greater promise.
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  • Effects of regulating international trade on firms and workers

    The benefits of trade regulation increase when workers are mobile

    Raymond Robertson, June 2018
    Economists have shown that international trade increases economic growth, with trade liberalization and integration having characterized the last 50 years. While trade can increase national welfare, recent estimates from both developed and developing countries show that labor market adjustment costs matter. Regulating trade, defined as adding or removing tariffs and other trade barriers, is not the best way to help lower-income workers who suffer from trade-induced losses. Policies that reduce adjustment costs may increase aggregate welfare more than regulating trade flows does.
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  • Do anti-discrimination policies work?

    A mix of policies could be the solution to reducing discrimination in the labor market

    Marie-Anne Valfort, May 2018
    Discrimination is a complex, multi-factor phenomenon. Evidence shows widespread discrimination on various grounds, including ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or beliefs, disability, being over 55 years old, or being a woman. Combating discrimination requires combining the strengths of a range of anti-discrimination policies while also addressing their weaknesses. In particular, policymakers should thoroughly address prejudice (taste-based discrimination), stereotypes (statistical discrimination), cognitive biases, and attention-based discrimination.
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  • The Chinese labor market, 2000–2016

    The world’s second largest economy has boomed, but a rapidly aging labor force presents substantial challenges

    Junsen ZhangJia Wu, May 2018
    China experienced significant economic progress over the past few decades with an annual average GDP growth of approximately 10%. Population expansion has certainly been a contributing factor, but that is now changing as China rapidly ages. Rural migrants are set to play a key role in compensating for future labor shortages, but inequality is a major issue. Evidence shows that rural migrants have low-paying and undesirable jobs in urban labor markets, which points to inefficient labor allocation and discrimination that may continue to impede rural–urban migration.
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  • The labor market in Norway, 2000–2016

    Negative consequences of falling oil prices were offset by real wage flexibility, reduced immigration, and labor reallocation

    Øivind A. Nilsen, May 2018
    Norway has a high labor force participation rate and a very low unemployment rate. Part of the reason for this fortunate situation is so-called “tripartism”: a broad agreement among unions, employers, and government to maintain a high level of coordination in wage bargaining. This has led to downward real wage flexibility, which has lessened the effects of negative shocks to the economy. Reduced net immigration, especially from neighboring countries, has also mitigated the negative effects of the recent drop in oil prices. A potential drawback of this tripartism is, however, the difficulty of reducing employee absences and disability.
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  • The labor market in Canada, 2000–2016

    A strong resource boom that benefited Canada’s economy and labor market was followed by a painful adjustment

    W. Craig Riddell, April 2018
    During the 2000–2016 period, Canada’s economy and labor market performed well. An important element in this success was the strong resource boom that lasted from the late 1990s to 2014. Since that time the economy and labor market have been undergoing a painful adjustment, a process that is now essentially complete. A good rule of thumb when examining many aspects of the labor market, such as the extent of unionization and the level of the minimum wage relative to the median wage, is that Canada is situated roughly halfway between the US and Europe.
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  • Aggregate labor productivity

    Labor productivity is generally seen as bringing wealth and prosperity; but how does it vary over the business cycle?

    Michael C. Burda, April 2018
    Aggregate labor productivity is a central indicator of an economy’s economic development and a wellspring of living standards. Somewhat controversially, many macroeconomists see productivity as a primary driver of fluctuations in economic activity along the business cycle. In some countries, the cyclical behavior of labor productivity seems to have changed. In the past 20–30 years, the US has become markedly less procyclical, while the rest of the OECD has not changed or productivity has become even more procyclical. Finding a cogent and coherent explanation of these developments is challenging.
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  • The labor market in New Zealand, 2000–2017

    Employment has grown steadily and the gender gap and skill premiums have fallen

    David C. Maré, April 2018
    New Zealand is a small open economy, with large international labor flows and skilled immigrants. Since 2000, employment growth has kept pace with strong migration-related population growth. While overall employment rates have remained relatively stable, they have increased substantially for older workers. In contrast, younger workers as well as the Maori and Pasifika ethnic groups experienced a sharp decline in employment rates and a rise in unemployment around the time of the global financial crisis. Wage gains have been modest and there has been a compression of earnings differentials by gender as well as by skill.
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  • Working in family firms

    Family firms offer higher job security but lower wages than other firms

    Thomas Breda, April 2018
    Family firms are ubiquitous in most countries. The differences in objectives, governance, and management styles between those firms and their non-family counterparts have several implications for the workforce, which scholars have only recently started to investigate. Family firms offer greater job security, employ different management practices, have a comparative advantage to avoid conflicts when employment relations are more hostile, and provide insurance to workers through implicit contracts when labor market regulation is limited. But all this also comes at a cost.
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  • The labor market in India since the 1990s

    Productivity growth and low unemployment have not been matched by comparable rises in wages

    The Indian economy entered an ongoing process of trade liberalization, domestic deregulation, and privatization of public sector units in 1991. Since then, per capita output has increased significantly, while the overall unemployment rate has remained low. However, labor force participation rates have fallen sharply, especially for women. In addition, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, an overwhelming proportion of the labor force continues to work in the informal sector, and there is little evidence of a sustained rise in wages for either unskilled rural or factory workers.
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