Transition and emerging economies

The transformation of economic systems from plan to market in transition and emerging economies has significant consequences not just for labor markets in those countries. The articles in this section offer summary lessons that can guide the development of institutions and labor reform policies in such countries, while also having wider relevance for other economies.

  • Defining informality vs mitigating its negative effects

    More important than defining and measuring informality is focusing on reducing its detrimental consequences

    There are more informal workers than formal workers across the globe, and yet there remains confusion as to what makes workers or firms informal and how to measure the extent of it. Informal work and informal economic activities imply large efficiency and welfare losses, in terms of low productivity, low earnings, sub-standard working conditions, and lack of social insurance coverage. Rather than quibbling over definitions and measures of informality, it is crucial for policymakers to address these correlates of informality in order to mitigate the negative efficiency and welfare effects.
  • Effects of regulating international trade on firms and workers

    The benefits of trade regulation increase when workers are mobile

    Raymond Robertson, June 2018
    Economists have shown that international trade increases economic growth, with trade liberalization and integration having characterized the last 50 years. While trade can increase national welfare, recent estimates from both developed and developing countries show that labor market adjustment costs matter. Regulating trade, defined as adding or removing tariffs and other trade barriers, is not the best way to help lower-income workers who suffer from trade-induced losses. Policies that reduce adjustment costs may increase aggregate welfare more than regulating trade flows does.
  • 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.
  • Aggregate labor productivity

    Labor productivity is generally seen as bringing wealth and prosperity; but how does it vary over the business cycle?

    Michael C. Burda, April 2018
    Aggregate labor productivity is a central indicator of an economy’s economic development and a wellspring of living standards. Somewhat controversially, many macroeconomists see productivity as a primary driver of fluctuations in economic activity along the business cycle. In some countries, the cyclical behavior of labor productivity seems to have changed. In the past 20–30 years, the US has become markedly less procyclical, while the rest of the OECD has not changed or productivity has become even more procyclical. Finding a cogent and coherent explanation of these developments is challenging.
  • One-company towns: Scale and consequences

    One-company towns concentrate employment but their ability to adapt to adverse events is often very limited

    Simon Commander, March 2018
    One-company towns are a relatively rare phenomenon. Mostly created in locations that are difficult to access, due to their association with industries such as mining, they have been a marked feature of the former planned economies. One-company towns typically have high concentrations of employment that normally provide much of the funding for local services. This combination has proven problematic when faced with shocks that force restructuring or even closure. Specific policies for the redeployment of labor and funding of services need to be in place instead of subsidies simply aimed at averting job losses.
  • The labor market in Poland, 2000−2016

    Employment has been rising, but low participation of older people and a large share of temporary jobs pose challenges

    In the early 2000s, Poland’s unemployment rate reached 20%. That is now a distant memory, as employment has increased noticeably and the unemployment rate has dropped to 5%. However, most of the net job creation has consisted of temporary jobs. Labor market segmentation has become an issue and an important factor behind wage inequality. Labor force participation of older workers increased after reforms aimed at prolonging careers, but the recent reversal of the statutory retirement age leaves Poland vulnerable to the effects of population aging.
  • Trade and labor markets: Lessons from China’s rise

    The China Shock has challenged economists’ benign view of how trade integration affects labor markets in developed countries

    David H. Autor, February 2018
    Economists have long recognized that free trade has the potential to raise countries’ living standards. But what applies to a country as a whole need not apply to all its citizens. Workers displaced by trade cannot change jobs costlessly, and by reshaping skill demands, trade integration is likely to be permanently harmful to some workers and permanently beneficial to others. The “China Shock”—denoting China’s rapid market integration in the 1990s and its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001—has given new, unwelcome empirical relevance to these theoretical insights.
  • Returns to language skills in transition economies

    Speaking English has its benefits in transition countries but can it supersede Russian?

    Astghik Mavisakalyan, December 2017
    In many transition countries, the collapse of communism ushered in language reforms to adapt to the newfound independence from the Soviet Union and openness to the rest of the world. Such reforms may have implications for individuals’ economic opportunities, since foreign language proficiency may enhance or signal productivity in the labor market. Recent empirical evidence documents positive labor market returns to English language skills in transition countries. However, Russian language proficiency also remains economically valuable, and nationalist language policies may lead to future loss of economic opportunities.
  • Youth unemployment in transition economies

    Both general and age-specific policies are necessary to reduce youth unemployment in transition economies

    Marcello Signorelli, November 2017
    The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession created a second major employment shock in less than a generation in several transition economies. In particular, youth unemployment rates, which are usually higher than adult rates in normal times, reached extremely high levels and partly tended to persist over time. Improving youth labor market performance should therefore be a top priority for policymakers in affected transition countries. Better understanding of the dynamics of national and regional youth unemployment rates and other associated indicators is particularly important for designing effective policy approaches.
  • Political connectedness and formal finance in transition economies

    Policies to increase formal finance to smaller firms requires improving the functioning of government bureaucracies

    Kobil Ruziev, November 2017
    Although small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent more than 90% of all enterprises and play an important role in employment generation, they lack access to affordable formal finance. Conventionally, market failures and information imperfections are seen as major causes of this misallocation. However, the role of social and political factors in resource allocation, including access to formal finance, has recently become more widely accepted. Firm-level evidence from post-communist economies, for example, shows that political connectedness improves access to bank credit, but is not associated with enterprise growth.
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