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.

  • The labor market in Spain, 2002–2016

    Youth and long-term unemployment, which skyrocketed during the Great Recession, were still very high in 2016

    Spain, the fourth largest eurozone economy, was hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, which made its chronic labor market problems more evident. Youth and long-term unemployment escalated during the crisis and, despite the ongoing recovery, in 2016 were still at unsustainably high levels. The aggregate rate of temporary employment declined during the recession, but grew among youth. Most interesting have been the narrowing of the gender gap in labor force participation, the decline in the share of immigrants in employment and the labor force, and the overall increase in wage inequality.
  • The labor market in Switzerland, 2000–2016

    The Swiss labor market has proven resilient to several recent shocks, with unemployment remaining stable and real wages steadily increasing

    Switzerland is a small country with rich cultural and geographic diversity. The Swiss unemployment rate is low, at only about half the OECD average. The rate has remained at that level since the year 2000, despite a massive increase in the foreign labor force, the Great Recession, and a currency appreciation shock, demonstrating the Swiss labor market’s impressive resiliency. However, challenges do exist, particularly related to earnings and employment gaps among foreign and native workers, as well as a narrowing but persistent gender pay gap. Additionally, regional differences in unemployment are significant.
  • Do post-prison job opportunities reduce recidivism?

    Increasing the availability of high-quality job opportunities can reduce recidivism among released prisoners

    Kevin Schnepel, November 2017
    The majority of individuals released from prison face limited employment opportunities and do not successfully reintegrate into society. The inability to find stable work is often cited as a key determinant of failed re-entry (or “recidivism”). However, empirical evidence that demonstrates a causal impact of job opportunities on recidivism is sparse. In fact, several randomized evaluations of employment-focused programs find increases in employment but little impact on recidivism. Recent evidence points to wages and job quality as important determinants of recidivism among former prisoners.
  • How digital payments can benefit entrepreneurs

    Digital payments can increase firms’ profits by allowing more efficient and cost-effective financial transactions

    Leora Klapper, November 2017
    Digital payment systems can conveniently and affordably connect entrepreneurs with banks, employees, suppliers, and new markets for their goods and services. These systems can accelerate business registration and payments for business licenses and permits by reducing travel time and expenses. Digital financial services can also improve access to savings accounts and loans. Electronic wage payments to workers can increase security and reduce the time and cost of paying employees. Yet, there are challenges as many entrepreneurs and employees lack bank accounts, digital devices, and reliable technology infrastructure.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The influence of occupational licensing and regulation

    Occupational licensing may raise wages and benefits for those licensed but also reduce access to work without clear benefits to consumers

    Morris M. Kleiner, October 2017
    Since the end of World War II, occupational licensing has been one of the fastest growing labor market institutions in the developed world. The economics literature suggests that licensing can influence wage determination, the speed at which workers find employment, pension and health benefits, and prices. Moreover, there is little evidence to show that licensing improves service quality, health, or safety in developed nations. So, why is occupational licensing is growing when there are such well-established costs to the public?
  • Rethinking the skills gap

    Better understanding of skills mismatch is essential to finding effective policy options

    Evidence suggests that productivity would be much higher and unemployment much lower if the supply of and demand for skills were better matched. As a result, skills mismatch between workers (supply) and jobs (demand) commands the ongoing attention of policymakers in many countries. Policies intended to address the persistence of skills mismatch focus on the supply side of the issue by emphasizing worker education and training. However, the role of the demand side, that is, employers’ wage-setting practices, garners comparatively little policy attention.
  • 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.
  • Wage policies in the public sector during wholesale privatization

    Does the transition to market economies imply growing wage inequality and, if so, along what dimensions?

    Jelena Nikolic, October 2017
    Examining the implications of changes in public sector wage-setting arrangements due to privatization is a relatively new area of economics research, with few studies having analyzed the effects of public sector restructuring on relative wages in developed countries. There is, however, a growing empirical literature that measures the effects of transitioning from central planning to market-based systems on public–private sector wage differentials. Policymakers can learn from this evidence about the ways in which ownership transformation affects the distribution of wages in both the public and private employment sectors.
show more