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.

  • Who benefits from the minimum wage—natives or migrants?

    There is no evidence that increases in the minimum wage have hurt immigrants

    Madeline Zavodny, December 2014
    According to economic theory, a minimum wage reduces the number of low-wage jobs and increases the number of available workers, allowing greater hiring selectivity. More competition for a smaller number of low-wage jobs will disadvantage immigrants if employers perceive them as less skilled than native-born workers—and vice versa. Studies indicate that a higher minimum wage does not hurt immigrants, but there is no consensus on whether immigrants benefit at the expense of natives. Studies also reach disparate conclusions on whether higher minimum wages attract or repel immigrants.
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  • How to minimize lock-in effects of programs for unemployed workers

    Appropriate timing and targeting of activation programs for the unemployed can help improve their cost-effectiveness

    Conny Wunsch, September 2016
    Activation programs, such as job search assistance, training, or work experience programs for unemployed workers, typically initially produce negative employment effects. These so-called “lock-in effects” occur because participants spend less time and effort on job search activities than non-participants. Lock-in effects need to be offset by sufficiently large post-participation employment or earnings for the programs to be cost-effective. They represent key indirect costs that are often more important than direct program costs. The right timing and targeting of these programs can improve their cost-effectiveness by reducing lock-in effects.
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  • International trade regulation and job creation

    Trade policy is not an employment policy and should not be expected to have major effects on overall employment

    L. Alan Winters, September 2014
    Trade regulation can create jobs in the sectors it protects or promotes, but almost always at the expense of destroying a roughly equivalent number elsewhere in the economy. At a product-specific or micro level and in the short term, controlling trade could reduce the offending imports and save jobs, but for the economy as a whole and in the long term, this position has neither theoretical support nor empirical evidence in its favor. Given that protection may have other—usually adverse—effects, understanding the difficulties in using it to manage employment is important for economic policy.
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  • Unemployment and happiness

    Successful policies for helping the unemployed need to confront the adverse effects of unemployment on feelings of life satisfaction

    Rainer Winkelmann, October 2014
    Many studies document a large negative effect of unemployment on happiness. Recent research has looked into factors related to impacts on happiness, such as adaptation, social work norms, social capital, religious beliefs, and psychological resources. Getting unemployed people back to work can do more for their happiness than compensating them for doing nothing. But not all unemployed people are equally unhappy. Understanding the differences holds the key to designing effective policies, for helping the unemployed back into work, and for more evenly distributing the burden of unemployment resulting from economic restructuring.
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  • Effect of international activity on firm performance

    Trade liberalization benefits better performing firms and contributes to economic growth

    Joachim Wagner, May 2014
    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 be part of any pro-growth policy.
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  • Innovation and employment

    Technological unemployment is not inevitable—some innovation creates jobs, and some job destruction can be avoided

    Marco Vivarelli, May 2015
    Studies find that technological change has contributed 
to the decline in manufacturing and to persistent unemployment in many advanced economies. While 
process innovation can be job-destroying, product innovation can imply the emergence of new firms, new sectors, and thus new jobs. But even for process innovation, the final impact on labor demand is shaped by market mechanisms that can compensate for the direct job-destroying impact if market and institutional rigidities do not impede them. Policies should maximize the job-creation effect of product innovation and minimize the direct 
labor-saving impact of process innovation.
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  • Employment and wage effects of extending collective bargaining agreements

    Extending provisions of collective contracts to all workers in an industry or region may lead to employment losses

    Ernesto Villanueva, March 2015
    In many countries, the minimum wages and working conditions set in collective bargaining contracts negotiated by a limited set of employers and unions are subsequently extended to all the employees in an industry. Those extensions ensure common working conditions within the industry, limit wage inequality, and reduce gender wage gaps. However, several studies suggest that those benefits come at the cost of reduced employment levels, especially during recessions. The income losses of workers who are displaced because of a collective contract extension can offset the wage gains among workers who keep their jobs.
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  • Do in-work benefits work for low-skilled workers?

    To boost the employment rate of the low-skilled trapped in inactivity is it sufficient to supplement their earnings?

    Bruno Van der Linden, March 2016
    High risk of poverty and low employment rates are widespread among low-skilled groups, especially in the case of some household compositions (e.g. single mothers). “Making-work-pay” policies have been advocated for and implemented to address these issues. They alleviate the above-mentioned problems without providing a disincentive to work. However, do they deliver on their promises? If they do reduce poverty and enhance employment, can we further determine their effects on indicators of well-being, such as mental health and life satisfaction, or on the acquisition of human capital?
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  • Active labor market policies and crime

    Unemployment increases crime among youth, while active labor market policies can mitigate the problem

    Torben Tranaes, September 2015
    Active labor market programs continue to receive high priority in wealthy countries despite the fact that the benefits appear small relative to the costs. This apparent discrepancy suggests that the programs may have a broader purpose than simply increasing employment—for instance, preventing anti-social behavior such as crime. Indeed, recent evidence shows that participation in active labor market programs reduces crime among unemployed young men. The existence of such effects could explain why it is the income-redistributing countries with greater income equality that spend the most on active labor market programs.
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  • Entrepreneurship and the business cycle

    Nascent entrepreneurship can have some predictive power over the business cycle

    Roy Thurik, October 2014
    Entrepreneurship has a cyclical component, raising two questions. Is the entrepreneurship cycle related to the business cycle? And is there causality? A two-way relationship between entrepreneurship and the business cycle would be in line with the two faces of entrepreneurs: as agents of change creating upswings (opportunity entrepreneurship) and as rational actors escaping unemployment by setting up a business (necessity entrepreneurship). Nascent entrepreneurship can indeed be precyclical, implying that the two faces of entrepreneurship also show up in the business cycle, with promising policy implications.
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