Category Archives: Labour markets

12/7/18: Romania’s Uneven convergence Path: 2007-2018

A new World Bank report, led by Donato De Rosa, covers Romania's reforms and economic development experience. Worth a read! |
"From Uneven Growth to Inclusive Development : Romania's Path to Shared Prosperity"

Quick summary:

  • "Romania’s transformation has been a tale of two Romanias: one urban, dynamic, and integrated with the EU; the other rural, poor, and isolated."
  • "Reforms spurred by EU accession boosted productivity ...GDP per capita rose from 30 percent of the EU average in 1995 to 59 percent in 2016."
  • "Today, more than 70 percent of the country’s exports go to the EU, and their technological complexity is increasing rapidly... the gross value added of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in GDP, at 5.9 percent in 2016, is among the highest in the EU."
  • "Yet Romania remains the country in the Union with by far the largest share of poor people, when measured by the $5.50 per day poverty line (2011 purchasing power parity)".  More than 26% of country population lives below that poverty line, "more than double the rate of Bulgaria (12%)."

  • "While Bucharest has already exceeded the EU average income per capita and many secondary cities are becoming hubs of prosperity and innovation, Romania remains one of the least urbanized countries in the EU, with only 55 percent of people living in cities."
  • "Overall, access to public services remains constrained for many citizens, particularly in rural areas, and there is a large infrastructure gap, which is a drag on the international competitiveness of the more dynamic Romania and limits economic opportunities for the other Romania in lagging and rural areas."
The positive effects of Accession were frontloaded, when it comes to structural reforms:
  • "Romania was invited to open negotiations with the EU in December 1999.  Until Romania joined in January 2007, EU accession remained an anchor for reforms, providing momentum for the privatization and restructuring of SOEs and for regulatory and judiciary reforms."
  • "Output gradually recovered, and until 2008 the country enjoyed high but volatile growth... Unemployment was on a declining trend, but youth and long-term unemployment remained elevated. Skills and labor shortages became increasingly widespread. High inactivity persisted stubbornly, particularly among women. Gains in labor force participation were modest overall. ...Inequality increased further, as large categories of people—the Roma in particular—continued to be excluded from the benefits of growth."
  • "Although output has recovered since 2008, institutional shortcomings have compounded the effects of the crisis, contributing to significant setbacks in poverty reduction, and are again leading to macroeconomic imbalances."
  • "Fiscal consolidation during 2009–2015 has helped place economic growth on a strong footing. However, lack of commitment and underfunding for the delivery of public services and poor targeting of social programs have contributed to the negative income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution (the so-called bottom 40) in 2009–2015, with poverty remaining above pre-crisis levels, and inequality still among the highest in the EU."

27/7/17: The Gen-Lost is still lost…

Today, Marketwatch reported on a research note from Spencer Hill of Goldman Sachs Research claiming that the young workers cohorts in the U.S. have now caught up in terms of employment with older workers' cohorts.

Sadly, the argument is based on highly flawed analysis. The core data presented in support of this thesis is the unemployment rate, as shown in the chart below:

But official unemployment figures mask massive decline in younger cohorts' labor force participation rates, as evidence in this chart from Peterson Institute for International Economics:

In simple terms, when you reduce your employment base by moving people into 'out of workforce' category, you lower unemployment rate.  This is supported by other research, e.g. as reported here: Skewed, against the Millennials, workplace conditions are also to be blamed: or as highlighted in these data:


So, no, beyond superficially deflated official unemployment metric, there is no evidence of the labor force conditions recovery for the younger workers. The Generation Lost is still lost. And that is before we consider the life cycle effects of the crisis.

16/5/17: Technology: Jobs Displacement v Enhancement

Technological innovation is driving revolutionary changes across the labour markets and more broadly, markets for human capital. These changes are structural, deep and accelerating, and, owing to their nature, are not yet sufficiently understood or researched.

One theoretically plausible aspect of the technological innovation in terms of human capital effects is the expected impact of technology on demand for (and therefore supply of) different occupations. For example, we know that technology can act as a complement to or a substitute for labour.

In the former case, we can expect advancement of technology to create more jobs that are closely linked to enhancing technological innovation, deployment and productivity. In other words, we can expect more geeks. And we can expect - given lags in education and training - that as demand for geeks rises, their wages will rise in the short run before falling rather rapidly in the longer term.

In the latter case, there is a bit less certain, however. Yes, technology’s primary objective is to lower costs of production and increase value added. As a result, it is going to displace vast numbers of workers who can be substituted for via technological innovation. However, not all substitutable workers are made of the same cloth and not all technological innovation is capable of achieving unambiguous returns on investment necessary to sustain it. Take, for example, an expensive robot that costs, say, USD 600.000 a pop, but can only replace 3 lower skilled workers in a laundromat, earning USD16,000 per annum. So with benefits etc factored in, the cost of these 3 workers will be around USD70,000 per annum. It makes absolutely zero sense to replace these workers with new tech at least any time before the tech systems become fully self-replicating and extremely cheap. So, for really lower skills distributions, we can expect that jobs displacement by technology is unlikely to materialise soon. But for mid-range wages, consistent with mid-range skills, there is a stronger case for jobs displacement.

All of which suggests that we are likely to see a U-shaped polarisation process arising when it comes to jobs distribution across the skills segments: higher wage segment rising in total share of employment, as complementarity effects drive jobs creation here; and the lower wage segment also rising in total employment, as robots-induced increase in value added across the economy translates into greater demand for low-skills jobs that cannot be efficiently displaced by technology, yet. In the middle, however, we are likely to witness a cratering of employment. Here, the workers are neither complementary to robots, nor are they earning low enough wages to make expensive robots non-viable as a replacement alternative for labour.

Interestingly, we are already witnessing this trend. In fact, we have been witnessing it since the early 1990s. For example, Harrigan, James and Reshef, Ariell and Toubal, Farid paper titled “The March of the Techies: Technology, Trade, and Job Polarization in France, 1994-2007”, published March 2016, by NBER (NBER Working Paper No. w22110: looked into “employee-firm-level data on the entire private sector from 1994 to 2007” in France.

The authors “show that the labor market in France has polarised: employment shares of high and low wage occupations have grown, while middle wage occupations have shrunk.” So the story is consistent with an emerging U-shaped labour market response to technological innovation on the extensive margin (in headcount terms). And more, the authors also find that inside margin also polarised, as “…the share of hours worked in technology-related occupations ("techies") grew substantially, as did imports and exports.”

However, the authors also look at a deeper relationship between technology and jobs polarisation. In fact, they find that, causally, “polarisation occurred within firms”, but that effect was “…mostly due to changes in the composition of firms (between firms). [And] …firms with more techies in 2002 saw greater polarization, and grew faster, from 2002 to 2007. Offshoring reduced employment growth. Among blue-collar workers in manufacturing, importing caused skill upgrading while exporting caused skill downgrading.”

21/6/16: Some Painful Stats on Males ‘Nonemployment’

Courtesy of @TheStalwart, a nice chart comparing levels of non-employment for prime-age males across a range of countries.

Couple of things jump at a glance:

  1. Ireland is firmly within the Souther European states group;
  2. Irish change between 1990 and 2014 is one of the smallest on record, suggesting absence from employment is a long-running problem for Ireland.
  3. In 1990, Ireland ranked at the top in the sample of countries in terms of the proportion of prime-age males not in employment (note, these exclude those in education and training). In 2014 it was fourth ranked, owing to a massive swing to the upside in the emasure in Greece, Spain and Italy.
  4. Countries normally associated with stable and healthy labour markets (e.g. Israel and Finland) are running high proportions of prime-age makes not in employment
  5. Notice Iceland's position (presumably no 1990 data is available) ranked 6th lowest percentage of prime-age males not in employment.
Quite interesting.

27/5/16: Ifo on the Effects of German Minimum Wage on Internships

Germany's Ifo institute issued the following press release concerning the effects of the recently introduced minimum wage law on internships (emphasis is mine):

"Munich, 27 May 2016 - The new minimum wage law in Germany has eliminated numerous internship positions. This is the result of the latest Ifo Personnel Manager Survey, conducted for Randstad Deutschland, which was published on Friday.

The number of companies offering internships has roughly halved. Before the introduction of the minimum wage, 70% of the companies said they offered voluntary internships, a number which has now fallen to 34%. This is also the case for compulsory internships, where the percentage of companies likewise fell from 62% to 34%.

The decline in internships is evident in companies of all sizes. For companies with more than 500 employees, the proportion of firms with voluntary internships decreased from 88% to 52% and for compulsory internships from 91% to 68%. In companies with fewer than 50 employees, the shares fell from 59% to 26% (voluntary) and from 49% to 21% (compulsory internships).

More than a few human resource managers indicated that because of personnel budget constraints the number of internships offered has been, in part, significantly reduced. Other companies now only offer compulsory internships or have reduced the duration of voluntary internships to three months. Some companies expressed complaints about the additional documentation requirements as well as uncertainty over the distinction between voluntary and mandatory internships.

Excluded from the minimum wage since 1 January 2015 are only internships that are compulsory as part of study or training regulations as well as voluntary internships of up to three months before or during vocational training or higher education. Additional exemptions from the minimum wage are the long-term unemployed for the first six months on the job."

Note: German labour markets are currently relatively tight when it comes to supply of skills, so reductions in internships, if confirmed by other sources, would be even more significant in such a setting.