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 the US, 2000–2018

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

    As the largest economy in the world, the US labor market is crucial to the economic well-being of citizens worldwide as well, 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 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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  • Short-time work compensation schemes and employment

    Temporary government schemes can have a positive economic effect

    Pierre Cahuc, May 2019
    Government schemes that compensate workers for the loss of income while they are on short hours (known as short-time work compensation schemes) make it easier for employers to temporarily reduce hours worked so that labor is better matched to output requirements. Because the employers do not lay off these staff, the schemes help to maintain permanent employment levels during recessions. However, they can create inefficiency in the labor market, and might limit labor market access for freelancers and those looking to work part-time.
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  • Redesigning pension systems

    The institutional structure of pension systems should follow population developments

    Marek Góra, April 2019
    For decades, pension systems were based on the rising revenue generated by an expanding population (the so-called demographic dividend). As changes in fertility and longevity created new population structures, however, the dividend disappeared, but pension systems failed to adapt. They are kept solvent by increasing redistributions from the shrinking working-age population to retirees. A simple and transparent structure and individualization of pension system participation are the key preconditions for an intergenerationally just old-age security system.
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  • Self-employment and poverty in developing countries

    The right policies can help the self-employed to boost their earnings above the poverty level and earn more for the work they do

    Gary S. Fields, March 2019
    A key way for the world’s poor to escape poverty is to earn more for their labor. Most of the world’s poor people are self-employed, but because there are few opportunities in most developing countries for them to earn enough to escape poverty, they are working hard but working poor. Two key policy planks in the fight against poverty should be: raising the returns to self-employment and creating more opportunities to move from self-employment into higher paying wage employment.
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  • Enforcement of labor regulations in developing countries

    Enforcement improves legal compliance, but its impact on welfare is country specific and unclear

    Lucas Ronconi, March 2019
    More than half of private sector employees in the developing world do not receive legally mandated labor benefits. These regulations have typically been enacted by democratically elected governments, and are valued by both formal and informal workers. Increasing public enforcement (e.g. inspections, fines, and workers’ access to the judiciary) can be a powerful tool to reduce violations (e.g. increase the number of employees earning above the minimum wage). Which factors determine enforcement, and whether enforcement produces more social benefits than costs, are, however, unanswered questions.
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  • Does accession to the EU affect firms’ productivity?

    State capture and uneven infrastructure development due to foreign direct investment can outweigh productivity gains

    Firms in the new EU member states of Eastern Europe are more productive than those in other transition economies, but with a diminishing advantage. The least productive firms benefit the most from membership, although the situation is reversed in the case of foreign-owned firms. Foreign direct investment fails to promote knowledge and technology spillovers beyond the receiving firms. The dominance of multinational enterprises in the new EU member states enhances the threat of corporate state capture and asymmetric infrastructure development, whilst access to finance remains a constricting issue for all firms.
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  • Is unconditional basic income a viable alternative to other social welfare measures?

    Countries give basic education and health care to everyone, and for good reasons—why not basic income?

    Ugo Colombino, March 2019
    Globalization and automation have brought about a tremendous increase in productivity, with enormous benefits, but also a dramatic reallocation of jobs, skills, and incomes, which might jeopardize the full realization of those benefits. Current social policies may not be adequate to successfully redistribute the gains from automation and globalization or to advance the reallocation of jobs and skills. Under certain circumstances, an unconditional basic income might be a better alternative for achieving these goals. It is simple, transparent, and has low administrative costs, though it may require higher taxes or a cut/reallocation of other public expenditures.
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  • Improvement in European labor force participation

    Do structural reforms or educational expansion drive higher employment and participation rates?

    Daniel Gros, February 2019
    Employment and labor force participation (LFP) rates have increased throughout Europe since the 1990s, with little interruption from the Great Recession. While many credit labor market reforms for this progress, ongoing educational expansion might actually be more important. This implies that the overall employment rate of an economy can change if the share of the population with tertiary education increases, even in the absence of any labor market reforms or effects of the business cycle. Taking this compositional effect into account makes it possible to disentangle the impact of reforms.
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  • Market competition and executive pay

    Increased competition affects the pay incentives firms provide to their managers and may also affect overall pay structures

    Priscila Ferreira, February 2019
    Deregulation and managerial compensation are two important topics on the political and academic agenda. The former has been a significant policy recommendation in light of the negative effects associated with overly restrictive regulation on markets and the economy. The latter relates to the sharp increase in top executives’ pay and the nature of the link between pay and performance. To the extent that product-market competition can affect the incentive schemes offered by firms to their executives, the analysis of the effects of competition on the structure of compensation can be informative for policy purposes.
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  • Happiness as a guide to labor market policy

    Happiness is key to a productive economy, and a job remains key to individual happiness, also under robotization

    Jo Ritzen, January 2019
    Measures of individual happiness, or well-being, can guide labor market policies. Individual unemployment, as well as the rate of unemployment in society, have a negative effect on happiness. In contrast, employment protection and un-employment benefits or a basic income can contribute to happiness—though when such policies prolong unintended unemployment, the net effect on national happiness is negative. Active labor market policies that create more job opportunities increase happiness, which in turn increases productivity. Measures of individual happiness should therefore guide labor market policy more explicitly, also with substantial robotization in production.
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