Full employment doesn’t mean all workers benefit

Michael Cameron in his blog ‘Sex, Drugs and Economics’ wrote a piece on full employment and the fact that it doesn’t benefit all workers. It was based on his published article in The Conversation.

Full employment has normally been the concept that has been used to describe a situation where there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment, but unemployment does exist as allowances must be made for frictional unemployment and seasonal factors – also referred to as the natural rate of unemployment or Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). Full employment does suggest that the employee has a lot of bargaining power as the supply of labour is scarce relative to the demand. In theory a tight labour market should lead to higher wages and improved conditions of work as the employer has less labour to chose from. We have seen in the labour market incentives for employees in recommending potential candidates for vacancies in the company. Other incentives for potential employees include shorter working weeks, hiring bonuses and special leave days.

However this doesn’t apply to all workers as Michael Cameron alludes to. A lot depends on the bargaining power of the worker and the elasticity of supply of labour. If the supply is very inelastic for a particular job (higher skilled) it is harder and most likely more expensive for the employer to find an alternative worker. This is evident when unemployment is low as the worker can easily look around at other job opportunities. On the contrary if the supply of labour is more elastic (lower skilled jobs) the worker has less bargaining power and the employer will have more potential workers to chose from. The graph below shows the elasticity of supply of labour – high skilled has a steeper curve (inelastic) whilst low skilled as a flatter curve (elastic)

Source: Economicshelp

Cameron writes in The Conversation:

Many low-income workers are in jobs that are part-time, fixed-term or precarious. Low-wage workers are not benefiting from the tight labour market to the same extent as more highly qualified workers.

Nevertheless, a period of full employment may allow some low-wage workers to move into higher paying jobs, or jobs that are less precarious and/or offer better work conditions. That relies on the workers having the appropriate skills and experience for higher-paying jobs, or for increasingly desperate employers to adjust their employment standards to meet those of the available job applicants.

Add to this the increase in the cost of living and those in low skilled jobs with little bargaining power are under pressure to accept whatever is available. The alternative is welfare benefits which are always playing catch-up

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