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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Immigrants and entrepreneurship Updated

    Business ownership is higher among immigrants, but promoting self-employment is unlikely to improve outcomes for the less skilled

    Immigrants are widely perceived to be highly entrepreneurial, contributing to economic growth and innovation, and self-employment is often viewed as a means of enhancing labor market integration and success among immigrants. Accordingly, many countries have established special visas and entry requirements to attract immigrant entrepreneurs. Research supports some of these stances, but expectations may be too high. There is no strong evidence that self-employment is an effective tool of upward economic mobility among low-skilled immigrants. More broadly prioritizing high-skilled immigrants may prove to be more successful than focusing on entrepreneurship.
  • 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.
  • Measuring employment and unemployment

    Should statistical criteria for measuring employment and unemployment be re-examined?

    Measuring employment and unemployment is essential for economic policy. Internationally agreed measures (e.g. headcount employment and unemployment rates based on standard definitions) enhance comparability across time and space, but changes in real labor markets and policy agendas challenge these traditional conventions. Boundaries between different labor market states are blurred, complicating identification. Individual experiences in each state may vary considerably, highlighting the importance of how each employed or unemployed person is weighted in statistical indices.
  • 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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