IZA World of Labor

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 explore the underlying mechanisms and the politico-economic determinants of such structures.

  • The labor market in the US, 2000–2016

    Recovery from the Great Recession is essentially complete, but there are difficult unemployment and wage issues

    Daniel S. Hamermesh, April 2017
    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, both reflecting the Great 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 nearly full recovery of unemployment from the depths of the Great Recession; and the little-known continuing growth in post-inflation average earnings.
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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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  • How is new technology changing job design?

    Machines’ ability to perform cognitive, physical, and social tasks is accelerating, dramatically changing jobs and labor markets

    Michael Gibbs, March 2017
    The information technology revolution has had dramatic effects on jobs and the labor market. Many routine and manual tasks have been automated, replacing workers. By contrast, new technologies complement non-routine, cognitive, and social tasks, making work in such tasks more productive. These effects have polarized labor markets: While low-skill jobs have stagnated, there are fewer and lower paid jobs for middle-skill workers, and higher pay for high-skill workers, increasing wage inequality. Advances in artificial intelligence may be accelerating computers’ ability to perform cognitive tasks, heightening concerns about automation of even high-skill jobs.
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  • Do payroll tax cuts boost formal jobs in developing countries?

    Payroll tax cuts in developing economies might be beneficial to the formal sector, even when the informal sector is large

    Carmen Pagés, March 2017
    Informal employment accounts for more than half of total employment in Latin America and the Caribbean, and an even higher percentage in Africa and South Asia. It is associated with lack of social insurance, low tax collection, and low productivity jobs. Lowering payroll taxes is a potential lever to increase formal employment and extend social insurance coverage among the labor force. However, the effects of tax cuts vary across countries, often resulting in large wage shifts but relatively small employment effects. Cutting payroll taxes requires levying other taxes to compensate for lost revenue, which may be difficult in developing economies.
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  • Does broadband infrastructure boost employment?

    Broadband infrastructure has differing effects on workers of different skills

    Oliver Falck, March 2017
    Broadband infrastructure enables fast access to the internet, which, evidence suggests, has significant effects on economic growth. However, labor market related issues have not received as much consideration. These include quantifying employment effects of broadband infrastructure roll-out and questions about who exactly are the winners and losers in the labor market, and whether skills in information and communication technologies (ICT) are reflected in labor market outcomes such as wages. Understanding these complementary issues allows for policy conclusions that go beyond simply encouraging the subsidization of broadband internet infrastructure.
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  • Do institutions matter for entrepreneurial development?

    In post-Soviet countries, well-functioning institutions are needed to foster productive entrepreneurial development and growth

    Ruta Aidis, February 2017
    Supportive institutional environments help build the foundations for innovative and productive entrepreneurship. A few post-Soviet countries have benefitted from international integration through EU membership, which enabled the development of democracy and free market principles. However, many post-Soviet economies continue to face high levels of corruption, complex business regulations, weak rule of law and uncertain property rights. For them, international integration can provide the needed support to push through unpopular yet necessary stages of the reform process.
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  • The effects of public sector employment on the economy

    The size and wage level of the public sector affect overall employment volatility and the economy

    Vincenzo Caponi, January 2017
    Public sector jobs are created because governments opt to provide goods and services produced directly by public employees. Governments, however, may also choose to regulate the size of the public sector in order to stabilize targeted national employment levels. However, economic research suggests that these effects are uncertain and critically depend on how public wages are determined. Rigid public sector wages lead to perverse effects on private employment, while flexible public wages lead to a stabilizing effect. Public employment also has important productivity and redistributive effects.
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  • The economics of employment tribunals

    Understanding how employment tribunals make decisions can guide reforms of employment dispute settlement

    Paul Latreille, January 2017
    Employment tribunals or labor courts are responsible for enforcing employment protection legislation and adjudicating rights-based disputes between employers and employees. Claim numbers are high and, in Great Britain, have been rising, affecting both administrative costs and economic competitiveness. Reforms have attempted to reduce the number of claims and to improve the speed and efficiency of dealing with them. Balancing employee protection against cost-effectiveness remains difficult, however. Gathering evidence on tribunals, including on claim instigation, resolution, decision making, and post-tribunal outcomes can inform policy efforts.
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  • Measuring entrepreneurship: Type, motivation, and growth

    Effective measurement can help policymakers harness a wide variety of gains from entrepreneurship

    Sameeksha Desai, January 2017
    Policymakers rely on entrepreneurs to create jobs, provide incomes, innovate, pay taxes to support public revenues, create competition in industries, and much more. Due to its highly heterogeneous nature, the choice of entrepreneurship measures is critically important, impacting the diagnosis, analysis, projection, and understanding of potential and existing policy. Some key aspects to measure include the (self-employment, new firm formation), (necessity, opportunity), and (growth). As such, gaining better insight into the challenges of measuring entrepreneurship is a necessary and productive investment for policymakers.
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  • Gender differences in wages and leadership

    Gender gaps in wages and leadership positions are large—Why, and what can be done about it?

    Mario Macis, January 2017
    Gender wage gaps and women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions exist at remarkably similar magnitudes across countries at all levels of income per capita. Women’s educational attainment and labor market participation have improved, but this has been insufficient to close the gaps. A combination of economic forces, cultural and social norms, discrimination, and unequal legal rights appear to be contributing to gender inequality. A range of policy options (such as quotas) have been implemented in some countries; some have been successful, whereas for others the effects are still unclear.
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