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.

  • Defining informality vs mitigating its negative effects

    More important than defining and measuring informality is focusing on reducing its detrimental consequences

    There are more informal workers than formal workers across the globe, and yet there remains confusion as to what makes workers or firms informal and how to measure the extent of it. Informal work and informal economic activities imply large efficiency and welfare losses, in terms of low productivity, low earnings, sub-standard working conditions, and lack of social insurance coverage. Rather than quibbling over definitions and measures of informality, it is crucial for policymakers to address these correlates of informality in order to mitigate the negative efficiency and welfare effects.
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  • The labor market in Australia, 2000–2016

    Sustained economic growth led to reduced unemployment and real earnings growth, but prosperity has not been equally shared

    Garry Barrett, July 2018
    Since 1991, the Australian economy has experienced sustained economic growth. Aided by the commodities boom and strong public finances, the Australian economy negotiated the global financial crisis without falling into recession. Over this period there were important structural changes, with increasing labor force participation among the elderly and the continuing convergence of employment and unemployment patterns for men and women. However, some recent negative trends include a rise in unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, a deteriorating youth labor market, and a stagnant gender earnings gap.
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  • The labor market in Sweden since the 1990s

    The Swedish economy continues to have high employment and rapidly rising real wages

    Nils Gottfries, July 2018
    The economic crisis in the early 1990s brought about a dramatic increase in unemployment and a similar decrease in labor force participation. Unemployment declined afterwards, but stabilized at around 6–7%—more than twice as high as before the crisis. Today, the unemployment rate is lower than the EU average, though Sweden no longer stands out in this respect. The 2008 financial crisis had small effects on the Swedish labor market. Employment in industry declined sharply and then remained stagnant, but employment in the service sectors has continued to grow steadily.
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  • The labor market in Brazil, 2001–2015

    An ongoing crisis threatens Brazil’s recent increased earnings and its decreased inequality and gender and ethnic gaps

    From 2001 to 2015, Brazil experienced a profound reduction in income inequality. The commodities boom and some institutional changes in the early 2000s kick-started the Brazilian labor market, increasing the quantity of formal jobs and earnings, especially for the poorest workers. Significant increases in average schooling and the real minimum wage helped reduce ethnic, gender, and regional earnings gaps, though all remain rather high. However, since 2014 a major fiscal crisis has negatively affected GDP and the labor market, seriously threatening these achievements.
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  • 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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