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.

  • Labor market policies, unemployment, and identity Updated

    Policies to help the unemployed can affect feelings of identity and well-being, so measures need to be evaluated carefully

    Ronnie Schöb, November 2021
    Unemployment not only causes material hardship but can also affect an individual's sense of identity (i.e. their perception of belonging to a specific social group) and, consequently, feelings of personal happiness and subjective well-being. Labor market policies designed to help the unemployed may not overcome their misery: wage subsidies can be stigmatizing, measures that require some work or attendance for training from those receiving benefits (workfare) may not provide the intended incentives, and a combination of an unregulated labor market and policy measures that bring people who became unemployed quickly back to work (flexicurity) may increase uncertainty. Policies aimed at bringing people back to work should thus take the subjective well-being of the affected persons more into consideration.
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  • The Danish labor market, 2000–2020 Updated

    Flexicurity has proven resilient to large shocks, but low skills and employment rates are challenges, especially among youths

    Torben M. Andersen, November 2021
    Denmark is often termed a “flexicurity” country with lax employment protection legislation, generous unemployment insurance, and active labor market policies. This model is not a safeguard against business cycles, but has coped with the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic, avoiding large increases in long-term and structural unemployment. The pandemic has had severe effects due to restrictions and lockdowns, but the recovery and re-openings in late 2020 and spring 2021 have been strong, indicating that the labor market effects are mainly temporary. Recent reforms have boosted labor supply and employment. Real wage growth has been positive and responded—with some lag—to the developments in unemployment.
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  • The labor market in the US, 2000–2020 Updated

    Covid-19 ended the longest US economic expansion, pushing unemployment to its highest level with a slow and incomplete recovery

    Daniel S. Hamermesh, October 2021
    As the largest economy in the world, the US labor market is crucial to the economic well-being of citizens worldwide as well as, of course, that of its own citizens. Since 2000 the US labor market has undergone substantial changes, reflecting the Great Recession and the Covid Recession, but also resulting from some striking trends. Most interesting have been a remarkable drop in the labor force participation rate, reversing a nearly 50-year trend; the full recovery of unemployment after 2010 and its skyrocketing in 2020; and the little-known continuing growth in post-inflation average earnings.
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  • Cash wage payments in transition economies: Consequences of envelope wages Updated

    Reducing under-reporting of salaries requires institutional changes

    In transition economies, a significant number of companies reduce their tax and social contributions by paying their staff an official salary, described in a registered formal employment agreement, and an extra, undeclared “envelope wage,” via a verbal unwritten agreement. The consequences include a loss of government income and a lack of fair play for lawful companies. For employees, accepting under-reported wages reduces their access to credit and their social protections. Addressing this issue will help increase the quality of working conditions, strengthen trade unions, and reduce unfair competition.
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  • The minimum wage versus the earned income tax credit for reducing poverty Updated

    Enhancing the earned income tax credit would do more to reduce poverty, at less cost, than increasing the minimum wage

    Minimum wage increases are not an effective mechanism for reducing poverty. And there is little causal evidence that they do so. Most workers who gain from minimum wage increases do not live in poor (or near-poor) families, while some who do live in poor families lose their job as a result of such increases. The earned income tax credit is an effective way to reduce poverty. It raises only the after-tax wage rates of workers in low- and moderate-income families, the tax credit increases with the number of dependent children, and evidence shows that it increases labor force participation and employment in these families.
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  • Noncompete agreements in employment contracts

    Can regulation ensure that noncompete agreements benefit both workers and firms?

    Kurt Lavetti , September 2021
    Labor market institutions that may weaken workers’ bargaining leverage have received increased scrutiny in recent years. One example is noncompete agreements, which prevent workers from freely moving across employers, potentially weakening earnings growth. New data sources and empirical evidence have led policymakers to consider sharp restrictions on their use, especially among lower-income workers. These restrictions take many different forms, each of which has unique tradeoffs between the desire to protect workers while allowing firms to use noncompetes in cases where they may create social value.
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  • Interaction between technology and recruiting practices

    While technology has improved sharing and managing information, there are legitimate concerns about the quality of information and its use in recruitment

    Vera Brencic, August 2021
    Employers are steadily increasing their reliance on technology when recruiting. On the one hand, this technology enables the wide dissemination of information and the management of large quantities of data at a relatively low cost. On the other hand, it introduces new costs and risks. The ease with which information can be shared, for example, can lead to its unauthorized use and obsolescence. Recruiting technologies are also susceptible to misuse and to biases built into their underlying algorithms. Better understanding of these trade-offs can inform government policies aiming to reduce search frictions in the labor market.
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  • Corporate income taxes and entrepreneurship Updated

    The type, quality, and quantity of entrepreneurship are influenced significantly by corporate income taxes—though only slightly

    Jörn Block, July 2021
    Corporate income taxation influences the quantity and type of entrepreneurship, which in turn affects economic development. Empirical evidence shows that higher corporate income tax rates reduce business density and entrepreneurship entry rates and increase the capital size of new firms. The progressivity of tax rates increases entrepreneurship entry rates, whereas highly complex tax codes reduce them. Policymakers should understand the effects and underlying mechanisms that determine how corporate income taxation influences entrepreneurship in order to provide a favorable business environment.
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  • Do in-work benefits work for low-skilled workers? Updated

    To boost the employment rate of the low-skilled trapped in inactivity is it sufficient to supplement their earnings?

    High risk of poverty and low employment rates are widespread among low-skilled groups, especially in the case of some household compositions (e.g. single mothers). “Making-work-pay” policies have been advocated for and implemented to address these issues. They alleviate the above-mentioned problems without providing a disincentive to work. However, do they deliver on their promises? If they do reduce poverty and enhance employment, is it possible to determine their effects on indicators of well-being, such as mental health and life satisfaction, or on the acquisition of human capital?
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  • Income inequality and social origins Updated

    Promoting intergenerational mobility makes societies more egalitarian

    Lorenzo Cappellari, May 2021
    Income inequality has been on the rise in many countries. Is this bad? One way to decide is to look at the degree of change in incomes across generations (intergenerational mobility) and, more generally, at the extent to which income differences among individuals are traceable to their social origins. Inequalities that reflect factors largely out of an individual’s control—such as parents’ education, local schools, and communities—require attention in order to reduce income inequality. Evidence shows a negative association between income inequality and intergenerational mobility, and a positive relationship between mobility and economic performance.
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