Labour markets

The decline in labour force participation in the US

Steven Braun, John Coglianese, Jason Furman, Betsey Stevenson, Jim Stock, 18 August 2014

The labour force participation rate in the US has fallen dramatically since 2007. This column traces this decline to three main factors: the ageing of the population, cyclical effects from the Great Recession, and an unexplained portion, which might be due to pre-existing trends unrelated to the first two. Of these three, the ageing of the population plays the largest role since it is responsible for half of the decline. Taken together, these factors suggest a roughly stable participation rate in the short-term, followed by a longer-term decline as the baby boomers continue to age. However, policy can play a meaningful role in mitigating this trend.

The unrecognised benefits of grade inflation

Raphael Boleslavsky, Christopher Cotton, 16 August 2014

Grade inflation is widely viewed as detrimental, compromising the quality of education and reducing the information content of student transcripts for employers. This column argues that there may be benefits to allowing grade inflation when universities’ investment decisions are taken into account. With grade inflation, student transcripts convey less information, so employers rely less on transcripts and more on universities’ reputations. This incentivises universities to make costly investments to improve the quality of their education and the average ability of their graduates.

Is there a ‘taste for discrimination’?

Alex Bryson, Arnaud Chevalier, 15 August 2014

Racial gaps in wages are often attributed to discrimination but data limitations make drawing strong conclusions difficult. Economists usually distinguish between taste-based and statistical discrimination. This column presents evidence from a new test of taste-based discrimination. Examining hiring decisions in the English Fantasy Premier League, the authors do not find that employers discriminate based on race. One explanation for this is that good productivity measures minimise the opportunities for statistical discrimination, which according to studies drives the racial difference in market outcomes.

Unemployment, and product and labour-market tightness

Pascal Michaillat, Emmanuel Saez, 12 August 2014

High US unemployment rates following the crisis are a primary policy concern, but are poorly explained by existing models. This column introduces a new model of frictional labour and product markets. Price rigidities yield testable predictions pointing to the source of unemployment and product market tightness. Evidence suggests that unemployment fluctuations are driven mostly by aggregate demand shocks.

The revolving door and worker flows in banking regulation

David Lucca, Amit Seru, Francesco Trebbi, 11 August 2014

Job transitions in the US banking between the regulatory and private sector – or the revolving door – have been under intense scrutiny, receiving both criticism and more benign views. However, the lack of systematic data makes drawing strong conclusions difficult. This column sheds light on these discussions by the use of new and unique data of career paths of current and former regulators, spanning 25 years. The results suggest lower employment spells of regulatory personnel in more recent years and for workers with higher education. Tightening the revolving door without altering other aspects of worker incentives may further create challenges for regulatory agencies to seek and retain talent.

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