Category Archives: Unemployment

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.


Turkey’s economy – stuffed

Inflation at 25%, Central Bank interest rates at 24%, Lira down 30% in value since the start of the year. What hope is there for the Turkish economy?

Wages and salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation and the reduction in demand has led to higher unemployment. There is pressure on the central bank to keep interest rates to avoid the lira collapsing. However this makes it expensive for businesses to borrow money and thereby reducing investment and ultimately growth.

No pain no gain – there is no alternative for Turkey other than undertaking painful and unpopular economic reforms. Remember what Reagan said in the 1980’s “If not now, when? If not us, who?”  He was referring to the stagflation conditions in the US economy at the time and how spending your way out of a recession, which had been the previous administration’s policy, didn’t work.

In order to the economy back on track things will need to get worse but President Erdogan has the time on his hands as there is neither parliamentary nor presidential elections in the next five years. This longer period should allow him the time to make painful adjustments without the pressure of elections which usually mean more short-term policies for political gain. Beyond stabilising the lira, which helped to ease the dollar-debt burden weighing on the country’s banks and corporate sectors, the 24 per cent interest rate level the central bank imposed also brought about a long-overdue economic adjustment. A cut in interest rates discourage net inflows of investment from foreigners and the resulting depreciation would accelerate the concerns about financial stability and deteriorating business and consumer confidence. Below is a mind map as to why a rise in the exchange rate maybe useful in reducing inflation.

RNBZ can’t seriously be thinking about reducing the OCR

Today’s labour market data showed a drop in unemployment from 4.4% to 3.9% and an employment rate of 68.3% the highest since the HLFS survey was first reported in 1986. The
unemployment rate of 3.9% is the lowest since June 2008 and towards the lowest bound of the RBNZs estimated 4% to 5.5% range for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). See graph below:

Tomorrow the RBNZ present their November Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) and these figures give them limited time to change any policy direction. Remember that the RBNZ is now tasked “supporting maximum sustainable employment within the economy” alongside its price stability mandate of 1-3% CPI with a target of 2%. However these figures seem to suggest that further easing is not required to meet employment objectives.

What is the Natural Rate of Unemployment?

The natural rate of unemployment is the difference between those who would like a job at the current wage rate – and those who are willing and able to take a job. In the above diagram, it is the level (Q2-Q1).


The natural rate of unemployment will therefore include:
Frictional unemployment – those people in-between jobs
Structural unemployment – those people that don’t have the skills that fit the jobs that are available.

It is also referred to as the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) – the job market neither pushes up inflation nor holds it back.

Source: BNZ – Economy Watch – 7th November 2018

Unemployment – a ‘luxury good’ in the developing world

Image result for unemployment in developing countriesFollowing from my last post about the welfare state, the lack of jobless benefits in developing countries has led to very low unemployment levels as workers simply cannot afford not to work. In order for them to survive they need to be prepared to do any sort of job. Even if unemployment benefits are available a lot of the time they are not worth the effort. In Thailand, for example, payments last six months and range from 1,650 baht per month ($52) to 15,000. To be eligible, a Thai worker must register with the social-security office. But only one in three does so.

Therefore if they have lost their job what do they do? A laid-off factory worker might lend a hand on the family farm, become a casual day labourer, or sell trinkets on the street. When Annan Chanthan left his job as a graphic designer in Bangkok five years ago, he thought about collecting unemployment benefits, but never bothered. He now earns more money selling lottery tickets next to Hua Lamphong railway station than he did in his former profession.

But the situation can be complicated in developing countries, with their large informal sectors, which offer a relatively easy way for unemployed people to pick up some income — undetected by the government — while they continue to receive jobless benefits. However the level of the unemployment benefit influence the duration of the period of unemployment, but it doesn’t really help workers find better jobs (such as those that pay a higher wage). However, the level of the benefit does seem to improve wages somewhat, although not the unemployment duration.

In poor countries, unemployment is paradoxically concentrated among the better off and better educated. They can afford to wait a bit for a job that matches their aspirations and qualifications. Their behaviour may also explain unemployment’s curious stability but when times are bad, they may settle for a worse job or stop looking, rather than wait longer, which would add to the rate of unemployment.

Source: The Economist June 9th 2018 – The luxury of unemployment



Repairing the Welfare State

Back in July The Economist had an article in its ‘International’ section on updating or repairing the welfare state. They identified 3 major challenges faced by welfare states in rich countries.

  1. Ageing population
  2. Immigration
  3. Adapting to changing labour markets

1. Ageing Population

Image result for old age dependency welfare stateThe rapid increase in life expectancy over the past century has become an issue for governments around the world in terms of financing pensions, social care, and health care – see graph. With the political opposition to a reduction of public services a solution could be to increase the tax base by mobilising the potential workforce so that a greater share of those of working age actually work, while another can be found in productivity growth. Yet another route is raising the retirement age in response to longer and healthier life expectancy. The challenge of funding the pension system appears particularly daunting, with an increasing share of the population spending a longer period of time in retirement. Although immigration is a problem it may be a solution to ageing as economic research from the UK and Denmark has shown that since 2002 EU migrants have contributed much more in taxes than they have cost in public services.

2. Immigration

Immigration poses another challenge to the welfare state. In 1978 Milton Friedman argued that you could have open borders or generous welfare states open to all, but not both, without swamping the welfare system. Moreover, taxpayers are more tolerant of benefits that are seen to look after “people like them”. Evidence suggests that there has been tension between diversity and generosity.

Welfare chauvinism has been evident in many countries – France, Sweden, Denmark – have curbed the rights to benefits of non-EU migrants since 2002. Reforms in the USA in 1990s limited illegal immigrants’ access to benefits and of late Sweden has limited paid parental leave for new immigrants and cut support payments to some asylum-seekers. Moreover, attitudes towards immigrants are volatile and swayed by the political climate. In 2011, for example, 40% of Britons said immigrants “undermined” the country’s cultural life, and just 26% said they enriched it. By last year, in the wake of the Brexit vote, only 23% went for undermined, compared with 44% for “enriched”.

3. Adapting to changing labour markets

Recent research by the OECD in seven of its members estimated that 60% of the working-age population had stable full-time work. Of the other 40%, no more than a quarter met the typical definition of unemployed: out of a job but looking for one. Most had dropped out of the labour market or worked volatile hours. In many countries when the jobless do find work, their benefits are withdrawn in such a way as to create a high effective marginal tax rate. Nearly 40% of the unemployed in the OECD face a marginal rate higher than 80% on taking a job. Welfare recipients also often suffer from bureaucratic traps. For example, some have to wait weeks between losing a job and receiving benefits.

Universal basic income (UBI) may be one way to avoid such problems. It takes many very different forms, but at its heart it replaces a plethora of means-tested benefits with a single, unconditional one, paid to everyone. Scotland and the Netherlands are running experiments involving UBI and many others are set to follow. But in no country is it yet the foundation of the benefits system for working-age adults.

The OECD recently modelled two forms of basic income. Under the first, countries’ spending on benefits was divided equally among everyone—a revenue-neutral reform. Under the second, everyone would receive benefits equal to the current minimum-income guarantee, and taxes would rise to pay for it, if necessary.

Welfare Policy – Trilemma

The results, as ever in welfare policy, reveal a “trilemma” between:

1. The overall cost,
2. How much it alleviates poverty
3. Its effect on work incentives.

They also show that the effects of introducing basic income vary hugely based on what welfare system it would partly replace. Countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Austria and Poland all spend more on welfare for the richest 20% than for the poorest. For them, spreading benefits more evenly would benefit the poor, even under a revenue-neutral model. But in countries that target welfare spending on the poor (such as Britain), UBI would either lead to large tax rises, to maintain a minimum income for everyone, or see benefits cut for the worst-off.

A more realistic alternative for many countries may be a negative income tax (NIT). Championed by Friedman, the NIT means that, below a certain income threshold, the taxman pays you. As you earn more, tax kicks in, tapering your income. The effect is similar to a basic income, especially since most UBI models assume that rich people would have to pay more tax to afford them. A NIT, however, is more efficient in that it does not give the rich a stipend only to take most of it back in tax.

Versions of a NIT have been part of welfare policy in Britain and America for decades, in the form of tax credits that are paid to those working on low incomes. Britain’s Universal Credit, a (sputtering) attempt to merge six working-age benefits into one, takes the approach further. A recent analysis by the OECD finds this a better way at targeting the poor than UBI.

Source: The Economist – Repairing the safety net – The welfare state needs updating. July12th 2018

Least educated workers a symbol of recovering US economy

During the GFC the American workers who suffered the most were those without a high school diploma – their unemployment rate was 15.6% in the summer of 2009 more than three times the peak unemployment rate for college graduates – refers to cyclical unemployment. Furthermore this particular group of unemployed were also those that found it hardest to get back into employment. However by July this year the Labour Department recorded that the unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma fell to 5.1 percent in July this year. This is surprising considering that low-skilled workers, who makeup 7.2% fo the labour force, were seen as the least likely to recover from a recession

Cyclical unemployment (or demand deficient) occurs when there is not enough demand to employ all those who want to work. It is a type that Keynesian economists focus on particularly, as they believe it happens when there is a disequilibrium in the economy. It is also often known as cyclical unemployment because it will vary with the trade cycle. When the economy is booming, there will be lots of demand and so firms will be employing large numbers of workers. Demand-deficient unemployment will at this stage of the cycle be fairly low. If the economy slows down, then demand will begin to fall. When this happens firms will begin to lay workers off as they do not need to produce so much. Demand-deficient unemployment rises. The behaviour of demand-deficient unemployment will exactly mirror the trade cycle.

The increasing trade war between the USA and China seems to have done little to put a damper on hiring. The manufacturing sector, which is particularly sensitive to exports, was robust, adding 37,000 jobs.

Source: New York Times – 2nd August 2018