The COVID-19 crisis and the US labour market: Rising inequality and precariousness in perspective

By Christophe Blot

In the United States as in France, the COVID-19 crisis has led to numerous measures restricting economic activities intended to limit the spread of the virus. The result will be a fall in GDP, which is already showing up in figures for the first quarter of 2020, and which will be much steeper in the second quarter. In a country noted for its weak employment protection, this unprecedented recession is quickly having repercussions on the labour market, as reflected in the rise in the unemployment rate from a low point of 3.5% in February to 14.7% in April, a level not seen since 1948. As Bruno Ducoudré and Pierre Madec have recently demonstrated in the case of France, the current crisis in the United States should also result in heightened inequalities and insecurity. And the shock will be all the greater in the US since the social safety net is less extensive there.

Continue reading “The COVID-19 crisis and the US labour market: Rising inequality and precariousness in perspective”
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What can we learn from the Finnish experiment with a universal income?

By Guillaume Allègre

Between 2017 and 2018, Finland conducted an experiment with universal income that gave rise to significant media coverage. 2,000 unemployed people receiving the basic unemployment benefit (560 euros per month) received the same amount in the form of unconditional income, which could be combined with income from work for the duration of the experiment (2 years, not renewable). On 6 May 2020, the final report evaluating the experiment was published (here is a summary of the results). The evaluators concluded that the experimental universal income had moderate positive effects on employment and positive effects on economic security and mental health. According to the final report, on average individuals in the treatment group worked approximately 6 additional working days (they worked 78 days). They experienced significantly less mental stress, depression and loneliness, and their cognitive functioning was perceived as better. Life satisfaction was also significantly higher. The results of the experiment therefore seem to argue in favour of a universal income. But is it really possible to draw lessons from the experiment with a view to generalizing the system? In 2018, I wrote that experimenting with universal income was “impossible“. Does the Finnish experience contradict this claim? It turns out that it is indeed difficult to draw lessons.

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European unemployment insurance

By Léo Aparisi de Lannoy and Xavier Ragot

The return of growth cannot eradicate the memory of how the crisis was mismanaged at the European level economically, but also socially and politically. The divergences between euro area countries in unemployment rates, current account balances and public debts are at levels unprecedented for decades. New steps in European governance must aim for greater economic efficiency in reducing unemployment and inequalities while explaining and justifying the financial and political importance of these measures in order to render them compatible with national policy choices. The establishment of a European unemployment insurance meets these criteria. Continue reading “European unemployment insurance”

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Beyond the unemployment rate. An international comparison since the crisis

By Bruno Ducoudré and Pierre Madec

According to figures from the French statistics institute (INSEE) published on 12 May 2017, non-agricultural commercial employment in France increased (+0.3%) in the first quarter of 2017 for the eighth consecutive quarter. Employment rose by 198,300 in one year. Despite the improvement on the jobs front experienced since 2015, the impact of the crisis is still lingering. Continue reading “Beyond the unemployment rate. An international comparison since the crisis”

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What is the initial assessment of Germany’s minimum wage?

By Odile Chagny (IRES) and Sabine Le Bayon

A year and a half after introducing a statutory minimum wage, the German Commission in charge of adjusting it every two years decided on 28 June to raise it by 4%. On 1 January 2017, the minimum will thus rise from 8.50 to 8.84 euros per hour. This note offers an initial assessment of the implementation of the minimum wage in Germany. We point out that the minimum wage has had some of the positive effects that were expected, helping to reduce wage disparities between the old Länder (former West Germany) and the new Länder (former East Germany), and between more skilled and less skilled workers. Continue reading “What is the initial assessment of Germany’s minimum wage?”

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Unemployment: beyond the (good) figures from France’s job centre

Analysis and Forecasting Department (France team)

The 60,000 person decline in March for the number of people registered in Category A at France’s Pôle emploi job centre is exceptional. One has to go back to September 2000 to find a fall of this magnitude. There is some natural volatility in the monthly statistics for job seekers, but the fact remains that the trajectory has changed noticeably. In the last year, the number registered in Category A at the job centre rose by 17,000. A year earlier, from March 2014 to March 2015, the increase was 164,000. Better yet, over the last six months the number registered fell by 19,000. Continue reading “Unemployment: beyond the (good) figures from France’s job centre”

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Matteo Renzi’s Jobs Act: A very guarded optimism

By Céline Antonin

At a time when the subject of labour market reform has aroused passionate debate in France, Italy is drawing some initial lessons from the reform it introduced a year ago. It should be noted that the labour market reform, dubbed the Jobs Act, had been one of Matteo Renzi’s campaign promises. The Italian labour market has indeed been suffering from chronic weaknesses, including segmentation, a duality between employees with and without social protection, high youth unemployment, and a mismatch between costs and labour productivity. Renzi’s reform takes a social-liberal approach, advocating flexicurity, with the introduction of a new permanent employment contract with graduated protection, lower social charges on companies, and better compensation and support for the unemployed. Although the initial assessment is surely positive in terms of both unemployment and job creation, there’s no cause for hasty triumphalism: the reform has been implemented in especially favourable circumstances, marked by a return of growth, an accommodative policy mix, and a stagnating work force. Continue reading “Matteo Renzi’s Jobs Act: A very guarded optimism”

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Unemployment: an ambiguous fall, but an unambiguous rise in long-term jobless

Analysis and Forecasting Department (France team)

The unemployment figures for the month of January 2016 published by France’s Pôle Emploi job centre show a fall of 27,900 in the number of job seekers who are not working (category A), which follows an increase recorded in the month of December (+15,800). While this fall might seem encouraging (a decline of this magnitude has not been seen since 2007), it must be qualified. First, recent changes in administrative practices made by Pôle Emploi [1] have resulted in an abnormal increase in exits from the jobless rolls due to failures to update (239,000, against a monthly average of 207,000 in 2015). Second, the high volatility of the monthly figures in recent months is a sign of a labour market in which job creation is insufficient to reduce unemployment on a sustainable basis. Continue reading “Unemployment: an ambiguous fall, but an unambiguous rise in long-term jobless”

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2015: An eighth year of rising unemployment in France

Department of Analysis and Forecasting (France Team)

Since June 2015, the number of job seekers at the end of the month (the number of “DEFM”, in French) in Category A registered with Pôle Emploi has swung from month to month, rising and falling. This high volatility, which reflects a sluggish labour market in which there is insufficient job creation to make a long-term reduction in unemployment, is directly related to the sluggish growth in the French economy overall. So after a relatively favourable November 2015 (15,000 DEFM fewer in category A), December once again saw an increase in the number of unemployed (+15,800), offsetting the previous month’s fall. In addition, for the first time since May 2015, all age groups experienced an increase in the number of category A DEFM in December. Continue reading “2015: An eighth year of rising unemployment in France”

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The labour market: is the unemployment rate a good indicator?

By Bruno Ducoudré and Pierre Madec

Considering the euro zone on the one hand and the United States and the United Kingdom on the other, changes in unemployment rates are a reflection of the divergences in growth highlighted in our last fiscal year forecast. While between 2008 and late 2010, trends in unemployment reflected the sharp deterioration in growth and did not differ much between the euro zone, the UK and the USA, differences began to emerge from 2011. In the United Kingdom and the United States, unemployment has been falling since 2011, whereas, after a brief respite, a second phase of rising rates took place in most euro zone countries (Table 1). It was only more recently that the unemployment rate has really begun to fall in Europe (late 2013 in Spain and early 2015 in France and Italy). Overall, for the period 2011-2015 the rate rose overall (+2.7 points) in Spain. In Italy, this deterioration in the labour market even worsened (+4.5 points in this period, against +2.2 points from early 2007 to late 2010). France, though to a lesser extent, was not spared.

An analysis of the unemployment rate does not however convey the full dynamics at work in the labour market (Tables 2 and 3), in particular in terms of underemployment. Thus during the crisis most European countries reduced the effective working time [1] to a greater or lesser degree, through policies on partial unemployment, the reduction of overtime, or the use of working-time accounts, but also through the expansion of part-time work (especially in Italy and Spain), including on an involuntary basis. Conversely, the favourable trend in the US labour market is partly due to a significant decline in the participation rate, which stood in the first quarter of 2015 at 62.8%, 3.3 points lower than eight years ago.

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In order to measure the impact of these adjustments (working time and participation rate) on unemployment, it is possible, subject to a number of assumptions [2], to calculate the unemployment rate at constant employment and control for these adjustments. Except for the United States, where the participation rate has fallen sharply since 2007, all the countries studied experienced an increase in their labour force (employed + unemployed) that was greater than in the general population; in many countries this was due to pension reforms. Mechanically, in the absence of job creation, the impact of this demographic trend is to push up the unemployment rate in the countries concerned. For instance, if the participation rate had remained at its 2007 level, the unemployment rate would be lower by 1.6 points in France and 1.1 points in Italy (Table 4). Conversely, without the significant contraction in the US labour force, the unemployment rate would have been more than 3 points higher than what was seen in 2015. Also note that since the crisis Germany has experienced a significant drop in unemployment (-4.2 points) even though its participation rate grew by 2.2 points. Assuming an unchanged participation rate, Germany’s unemployment rate would be 3.1% (Figure 1).

In terms of working time, the lessons seem quite different. It thus appears that if working time had been maintained in all the countries at its pre-crisis level, the unemployment rate would have been more than 3 points higher in Germany and Italy and about 1 point higher in France and Spain, countries in which working time decreased sharply only from 2011. In the US and UK, the situation is very different: working time has changed only very little since the crisis. By controlling for working time, the unemployment rate thus changes along the lines observed in the two countries.

The tendency for working time to fall is a familiar story. Since the late 1990s, all the countries studied have greatly reduced their working hours. In Germany, between 1998 and 2008, the reduction was on average 0.6% per quarter. In France, the transition to the 35-hour week caused a similar reduction over the period. In Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, the downward shifts in average working hours were respectively -0.3%, -0.4% and -0.3% per quarter. In total, between 1998 and 2008, working time fell by 6% in Germany and France, 4% in Italy, 3% in the United Kingdom and the United States and 2% in Spain, which was de facto the only country that during the crisis intensified the decline in working time that started in the late 1990s.

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[1] Working time is understood here as the total number of hours worked by employees and the self-employed (i.e. total employment).

[2] It is assumed that, at constant use, a one-point increase in the participation rate leads to an increase in the unemployment rate. Employment and working time are not considered here in full-time equivalents. Finally, neither the “halo of unemployment” nor any possible “bending effects” are taken into account.

 

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