Category Archives: Unemployment

Labour Market – notes for NCEA Level 2

Wage Rate:- The price of labour as determined by market supply and demand.
The demand for labour is said to be derived demand: – the demand for labour is dependent on the demand for the goods & services produced.
Key factors that affect the quantity of labour supplied:-

  • age of population
  • non-wage factors
  • wages
  • Difficulty in acquiring qualifications – eg. doctors
  • social attitudes to employment
  • discrimination

Change in Demand for labour Change in Supply of labour

A more realistic version of the market model measures the price of labour in real wages rather than in nominal or money wages. The difference is that nominal wages are the actual dollars that are paid for any job while real wages are a measure of the ability of those dollars (earnings) to buy goods and services. Therefore real wages consider the purchasing power of your income.

Sticky Wages
Actual wages will rise much more easily than they will fall. Labour markets are extremely rigid when it comes to reducing wage levels. Several factors encourage wages to stick at higher levels and so prevent the market from clearing, as shown in ‘Supply and Demand Applications’ and below.

Equilibrium and Real Wages

A = Employed B = Involuntary Unemployment C = Voluntary Unemployment

Some of these factors occur through the natural operation of the labour market.

  • Strong trade unions can operate as ‘monopoly suppliers’ of labour. This keeps wages above the equilibrium equilibrium. Fewer workers are hired.
  • Hiring cheap labour may backfire on employers. This labour may not have the same level of skills as that of the firm’s existing workforce. This will increase costs for the firm if it has to provide too much training. Existing workers therefore hold the balance of power and can demand higher wages.
  • The idea that a job has a certain worth, an intrinsic value regardless of the action of demand and supply, can keep wages above equilibrium.
  • The influence of humanity values can be strong. It is easy to pay less for resources other than labour.

Some factors are imposed on the market by the government.

  • Legislated minimum wages prevent the market from clearing. Although these wages aim to protect the incomes of those in the lower paid jobs, the result is fewer jobs for those same workers.
  • Welfare benefits can be over-generous and this may discourage the unemployed from seeking jobs.

A2 Economics – Wage Price Spiral and the Long Run Phillips Curve

Just covering this topic with my A2 class. Part of the CIE A2 macro syllabus focuses on the wage price spiral which relates to the Phillips Curve. Here are some excellent notes that I picked up from Russell Tillson in my early days teaching at Epsom College. As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve.During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

US unemployment figures – Great Depression again?

The number of people applying for unemployment benefit in the US over the last four weeks is astonishing – 22 million which represents 13% of the labour force. Some economists are suggesting that it will go above 15% in the next couple of months as the lockdown continues to impact businesses.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton in Chicago told the New York Times. “This is the deepest, fastest, most broad-based recession we’ve ever seen.”

Getting money quickly to people who need it is essential to limiting the economic damage and heading off a prolonged downturn, economists say. Relying on state unemployment offices, however — which had been set up and staffed to deal with record-low jobless rates — has resulted in mammoth delays. New York Times

The graph below represent these figures in a historical context. It would not be surprising if the rate went above that of the Great Depression – 25%. However these estimates would be dependent on a L U V or W recovery – see previous blog post. The graph below is from GZERO.

Post Covid-19 scenarios – New Zealand & Global economies

ASB bank published some of its forecasting for the Global and New Zealand economies and number of potential routes – read the full article here. They have come up with a central scenario which focuses on what is actually happening at the moment although we know how things can change. They then do an upside and a downside around this central forecast. They also published some graphs that relate to their scenarios – see below.

The ASB also noted that compared to other countries New Zealand is currently in a good position:

  • The economy is going into a deep but short-lived contraction – the economy will recover.
  • NZ has more fiscal and monetary ammunition than other countries.

Where the economy actual ends up – how long is a piece of string? Stay safe.

Unemployment in Denmark – generous benefits with strict controls

With unemployment at 4.2% – less than 120,000 – in Denmark it has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in Europe. Those unemployed get 90% of their former salary but there are very strict controls on those receiving these benefits. Some of them are outlined below:

  • Check-in with the government website every 7 days
  • Apply for 3 jobs each week that you are unemployed – also have to prove their efforts
  • Within two weeks after you become unemployed, you must upload and activate a CV on the government website.
  • Each month they have to attend an interview with a government job centre
  • Financial benefits maybe cut if they don’t abide by the conditions.

The video compares the French system with that of Denmark.

New Zealand’s unemployment and wages

In the September quarter New Zealand’s unemployment rate was 4.2% which was up 0.3% from the June quarter. Since the global financial crisis unemployment figures have been trending downwards since it peak of 6.7% in the September 2012. Despite the quarterly rise in unemployment, the underutilisation rate, which is a broader measure of spare capacity in the labour market, has fallen to the lowest level in over eleven years. The fall in underutilisation this quarter was driven by a drop in the number of underemployed people, those who work part time but are looking to work more hours.

Source: Economic Overview – Westpac November 2019

During 2019 the labour market appears to have tightened but it does appear to lag behind the growth cycle meaning that with the slowdown in growth in 2019 higher levels of unemployment will be apparent early this year. It is interesting to note that as labour becomes more scarce with lower levels of unemployment wage growth usually follows – see graph.

Annual wage growth is at its highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis, after which wage growth remained largely flat. The percentage of wages that increased is at its highest level since March 2015, at 59%. This shows there has been more broad-based wage growth across the Labour Cost Index* (LCI). Salary and wage rates for the public sector increased 3.0 percent annually, the highest rate since June 2009. This compares to a 2.2 percent increase in the year to the June 2019 quarter. Public sector wage rates have been driven by collective agreements for teachers, nurses, and police over the past year. With these three largest occupations excluded, public sector wages would have increased 1.8 percent annually.

*The labour cost index (LCI) measures changes in labour costs. These costs consist of base salary and ordinary-time wage rates, overtime wage rates, and non-wage labour-related costs. The index essentially covers all employees aged 15 years and over, in all occupations, and in all industries except domestic services.

Department of Statistics NZ
Westpac Quarterly Overview – November 2019

Automatic stabilisers – Direct Stimulus Payments

It is unavoidable that recessions are part of the economic environment that we live in. In tackling the impact of recessions it has become apparent that one cannot solely rely on expansionary monetary policy of the central bank. Economic conditions have changed, as if an economy was to fall into recession in this low interest environment monetary policy options are far more limited than they were post the GFC. Add to this a higher debt level and you put further pressure on the banking system. A publication this year entitled “Recession Ready – Fiscal policies to stabilise the American economy.” (Published by the Hamilton Group – Washington Center for Equitable Growth) suggests that governments should assist in ensuring that the recovery phase is much quicker than it has been by ensuring confidence amongst businesses and households so they resume investing and spending again. They focus on antirecession programmes known as “automatic stabilisers.”

Automatic stabilisers are the automatic increases in revenues and decreases in expenditure in the government budget that occur when the economy strengthens, and the opposite changes that occur when the economy weakens.

Increase in GDP growth = the government will receive more tax revenues – people earn more and so pay more income tax. As it is assumed that unemployment decreases the amount of money spent on unemployment benefit decreases.

Reduction in GDP growth = lower incomes – people pay less tax. As unemployment increases the government spends more on unemployment benefits. This increase in benefit spending and lower tax collection helps to limit the fall in aggregate demand.

One of the chapters written by Claudia Sahm proposes a direct payment to individuals that would automatically be paid out early in a recession and then continue annually when the recession is severe. During a recession consumer spending (C) declines sharply – see graph – and as it makes up above 70% of most countries aggregate demand – C+I+G+(X-M) – this can lead to employment losses and reduced output. Consumers therefore are integral to boosting aggregate demand and direct stimulus payments to individuals should become part of the system of automatic stabilisers as additional income translates quickly into additional spending.

Trigger to start automatic stimulus payments.

The idea behind this is for direct payments to individuals after a 0.5% in the quarterly unemployment rate. If you look at each recession since 1970 the stimulus trigger of an increase in 0.5% unemployment meant that payments would have been triggered within three months of the start of the past six recessions (USA). But there are some concerns with using unemployment data:

  1. Unemployment rate tends to lag the business cycle as unemployment tends to peak after the recession ahas ended.
  2. The rise in unemployment doesn’t necessarily mean you are in recession – two consecutive quarters of negative GDP.

Lump sum v Tax cuts

There is an argument that a one-off lump sum payment is much effective in boosting spending than changes in income tax which would be spread fiscal stimulus throughout the year. Even if the Marginal Propensity to Consume (MPC) was the same for both lump sum and tax cuts it would not be until early in the next year that the full spending occurred under the tax cut option. The delay in spending from lump sum payments would be three months thus the overall stimulus boost would be both larger and more rapid – see graph below.

Final thought
Direct stimulus payments would quickly deliver extra income to millions of households at the start of a recession and maintain income support until the recession has subsided. This should generate more aggregate demand and thereby reducing the impact of the recessionary phase.

Source: “Recession Ready – Fiscal policies to stabilise the American economy.” (Published by the Hamilton Group – Washington Center for Equitable Growth)

America’s next recession

Following on from a previous post about the inverted yield curve, The Economist have produced a very good video explaining how when the outlook is gloomy investors turn buy safe assets like long-term bonds, pushing their price up so the interest rate for holding them falls. Higher bond prices are also a signal that there are fewer exciting investment opportunities elsewhere such as the stockmarket. Unemployment is also an indicator that closely correlates with a recession and even R index* can fuel recessionary expectations. There are some particularly good graphs in the video.

*The recession index (the R-word index) is an informal index created by The Economist which counts how many times the word ‘recession’ is mentioned in the Washington Post and the The New York Times in a quarter.

A2 Economics – UB40 and unemployment mind map

Just started unemployment with my A2 class today and below is a mind map which you might find useful. Also used the UB40 album cover as a good lesson starter – the  reverse has been made to look like the UB40 unemployment benefit attendance card from which the band took their name. Their UK top-ten hit “One In Ten” was an attack on Thatcherism and is mistakenly cited as referring to the number of unemployed in the UK at that time. It is in fact a song about government statistics in general, and how politicians use them to de-humanise problems. Useful way to introduce the subject especially if the class like reggae.