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.

  • Tax evasion, market adjustments, and income distribution Updated

    Market adjustments to tax evasion alter factor and product prices, which determine the true impacts and beneficiaries of tax evasion

    James AlmMatthias Kasper, February 2020
    How does tax evasion affect the distribution of income? In the standard analysis of tax evasion, all the benefits are assumed to accrue to tax evaders. However, tax evasion has other impacts that determine its true effects. As factors of production move from tax-compliant to tax-evading (informal) sectors, these market adjustments generate changes in relative prices of products and factors, thereby affecting what consumers pay and what workers earn. As a result, at least some of the gains from evasion are shifted to consumers of goods produced by tax evaders, and at least some of the returns to tax evaders are competed away via lower wages.
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  • The consequences of trade union power erosion Updated

    Declining union power would not be an overwhelming cause for concern if not for rising wage inequality and the loss of worker voice

    John T. Addison, February 2020
    The micro- and macroeconomic effects of the declining power of trade unions have been hotly debated by economists and policymakers, although the empirical evidence does little to suggest that the impact of union decline on economic aggregates and firm performance is an overwhelming cause for concern. That said, the association of declining union power with rising earnings inequality and the loss of an important source of dialogue between workers and their firms have proven more worrisome if no less contentious. Causality issues dog the former association and while the diminution in representative voice seems indisputable any depiction of the non-union workplace as an authoritarian “bleak house” is more caricature than reality.
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  • The labor market in the UK, 2000–2019 Updated

    Unemployment rose only modestly during the Great Recession and fell strongly since, with productivity and wages lagging behind

    Experiences during the Great Recession support the view that the UK labor market is relatively flexible. Unemployment rose less and recovered faster than in most other European economies. However, this success has been accompanied by a stagnation of productivity and wages; an open question is whether this represents a cyclical phenomenon or a structural problem. In addition, the effects of the planned exit of the UK from the EU (Brexit), which is quite possibly the greatest current threat to the stability of the UK labor market, are not yet visible in labor market statistics.
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  • The gig economy

    Non-traditional employment is a great opportunity for many, but it won’t replace traditional employment

    Paul Oyer, January 2020
    The number of people holding non-traditional jobs (independent contractors, temporary workers, “gig” workers) has grown steadily as technology increasingly enables short-term labor contracting and fixed employment costs continue to rise. For many firms that need less than a full-time person for short-term work and for many workers who value flexibility this has created a great deal of surplus. During slack economic periods, non-traditional work also serves as an alternative safety net. Non-traditional jobs will continue to become more common, though policy changes could slow or accelerate the trend.
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  • The labor market in Ireland, 2000–2018 Updated

    A remarkable turnaround in the labor market went hand in hand with economic recovery

    Ireland was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis, with severe impacts on the labor market. Between 2007 and 2013, the unemployment rate increased dramatically, from 5% to 15.5%, and the labor force participation rate declined by almost five percentage points between 2007 and 2012. Outward migration re-emerged as a safety valve for the Irish economy, helping to moderate impacts on unemployment via a reduction in overall labor supply. As the crisis deepened, long-term unemployment escalated. However, since 2013, there is clear evidence of a recovery in the labor market with unemployment, both overall and long-term, dropping rapidly.
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  • The labor market in South Korea, 2000–2018 Updated

    The labor market stabilized quickly after the 1998 Asian crisis, but rising inequality and demographic change are challenges

    Jungmin Lee, January 2020
    South Korea has boasted one of the world's most successful economies since the end of World War II. The South Korean labor market has recovered quickly from the depths of the Asian crisis in 1998, and has since remained surprisingly sound and stable. The unemployment rate has remained relatively low, and average real earnings have steadily increased. The South Korean labor market was resilient in the wake of the global financial crisis. However, there are issues that require attention, including high earnings inequality, an aging labor force, increasing part-time jobs, and rising youth unemployment rates.
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  • How labor market institutions affect job creation and productivity growth Updated

    Key labor market institutions, and the policies that shape them, affect the restructuring that leads to economic growth

    Magnus Henrekson, January 2020
    Economic growth requires factor reallocation across firms and continuous replacement of technologies. Labor market institutions influence economic dynamism by their impact on the supply of a key factor, skilled workers to new and expanding firms, and the shedding of workers from declining and failing firms. Growth-favoring labor market institutions include portable pension plans and other job tenure rights, health insurance untied to the current employer, individualized wage-setting, and public income insurance systems that encourage mobility and risk-taking in the labor market.
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  • The labor market in Germany, 2000–2018 Updated

    The transformation of a notoriously rigid labor market into a role model of its own style is essentially complete

    Hilmar SchneiderUlf Rinne, December 2019
    The EU's largest economy, Germany, has managed to find an effective and unique combination of flexibility and rigidity in its labor market. Institutions that typically characterize rigid labor markets are effectively balanced by flexibility instruments. Important developments since 2000 include steadily decreasing unemployment rates (since 2005), increasing participation rates, and (since 2011) moderately increasing labor compensation. The German labor market was remarkably robust to the impacts of the Great Recession, thus providing a useful case study for other developed countries.
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  • The Danish labor market, 2000–2018 Updated

    Employment has increased since the recession due to a cyclical upturn and structural reforms

    Torben M. Andersen, December 2019
    Denmark is often highlighted as a “flexicurity” country characterized by lax employment protection legislation, generous unemployment insurance, and active labor market policies. Despite a sharp and prolonged decline in employment in the wake of the Great Recession, high job turnover and wage adjustments worked to prevent increased long-term and structural unemployment. Most unemployment spells were short, muting the effects on long-term and youth unemployment. Recent reforms boosted labor supply and employment, targeting the young, elderly, and immigrants. Employment recovered to its structural level around 2015 and has since increased due to a favorable business cycle situation and structural reforms (particularly increases in retirement age).
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  • Effect of international activity on firm performance Updated

    Trade liberalization benefits better performing firms and contributes to economic growth

    Joachim Wagner, November 2019
    There is evidence that better performing firms tend to enter international markets. Internationally active firms are larger, more productive, and pay higher wages than other firms in the same industry. Positive performance effects of engaging in international activity are found especially in firms from less advanced economies that interact with partners from more advanced economies. Lowering barriers to the international division of labor should therefore be part of any pro-growth policy.
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