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.

  • Should unemployment insurance cover partial unemployment? Updated

    Time-limited benefits may yield significant welfare gains and help underemployed part-time workers move to full-time employment

    Susanne Ek Spector, June 2022
    A considerable share of the labor force consists of underemployed part-time workers: employed workers who, for various reasons, are unable to work as much as they would like to. Offering unemployment benefits to part-time unemployed workers is controversial. On the one hand, such benefits can strengthen incentives to take a part-time job rather than remain fully unemployed, thus raising the probability of obtaining at least some employment. On the other hand, these benefits weaken incentives for part-time workers to look for full-time employment. It is also difficult to distinguish people who work part-time by choice from those who do so involuntarily.
  • Gross domestic product: Are other measures needed? Updated

    GDP summarizes only one aspect of a country’s condition; other measures in addition to GDP would be valuable

    Barbara M. Fraumeni, April 2022
    Gross domestic product (GDP) is the key indicator of the health of an economy and can be easily compared across countries. But it has limitations. GDP tells what is going on today, but does not inform about sustainability of growth. The majority of time is spent in home production, yet the value of this time is not included in GDP. GDP does not measure happiness, so residents can be dissatisfied even when GDP is rising. In addition, GDP does not consider environmental factors, reflect what individuals do outside paid employment, or even measure the current or future potential human capital of a country. Hence, complementary measures may help to show a more comprehensive picture of an economy.
  • Employment and wage effects of extending collective bargaining agreements Updated

    Sectoral collective contracts reduce inequality but may lead to job losses among workers with earnings close to the wage floors

    In many countries, the wage floors and working conditions set in collective contracts negotiated by a subset of employers and unions are subsequently extended to all employees in an industry. Those extensions ensure common working conditions within the industry, mitigate wage inequality, and reduce gender wage gaps. However, little is known about the so-called bite of collective contracts and whether they limit wage adjustments for all workers. Evidence suggests that collective contract benefits come at the cost of reduced employment levels, though typically only for workers earning close to the wage floors.
  • The transformations of the French labor market, 2000–2021 Updated

    The transformations of the French labor market, 2000–2021

    Philippe Askenazy, February 2022
    France has the second largest population of countries in the EU. Since 2000, the French labor market has undergone substantial changes resulting from striking trends, some of which were catalyzed by the Great Recession and the Covid-19 crisis. The most interesting of these changes have been the massive improvement in the education of the labor force (especially of women), the resilience of employment during recessions, and the dramatic emergence of very-short-term employment contracts (less than a week) and low-income independent contractors, which together have fueled earnings inequality.
  • Performance-related pay and productivity Updated

    Do performance-related pay and financial participation schemes have an effect on firms’ performance?

    A growing number of firms offer compensation packages that link pay to performance. The aim is to motivate workers to be more efficient while also increasing their attachment to the company, thereby reducing turnover and absenteeism. The effects of performance-related pay on productivity depend on the scheme type and design, with individual incentives showing the largest effect. Governments often offer tax breaks and financial incentives to promote performance-related pay, though their desirability has been questioned due to large deadweight losses involved. The diffusion of remote work will increase the relevance of performance-related pay.
  • The relationship between recessions and health Updated

    Economic recessions seem to reduce overall mortality rates, but increase suicides and mental health problems

    Nick Drydakis, December 2021
    Recessions are complex events that affect personal health and behavior via various potentially opposing mechanisms. While recessions are known to have negative effects on mental health and lead to an increase in suicides, it has been proven that they reduce mortality rates. A general health policy agenda in relation to recessions remains ambiguous due to the lack of consistency between different individual- and country-level approaches. However, aggregate regional patterns provide valuable information, and local social planners could use them to design region-specific policy responses to mitigate the negative health effects caused by recessions.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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