Figures out yesterday show that unemployment in New Zealand remained at 3.4% which makes for a very tight labour market. One wonders if this figure is beyond the maximum sustainable levels with the RBNZ worried about the pressure on private sector wages feeding into inflation. The RBNZ would like labour market pressures to ease – i.e. they want unemployment – as this should bring down inflation. However on 18th May the government deliver the Budget and no doubt there will be some fiscal stimulus that the RBNZ will need to be aware of – Expansionary Fiscal Policy vs Contractionary Monetary Policy. It seems the Government want to put money into the circular flow especially as it is election year but the RBNZ want to keep inflation between 1-3%. Ultimately it is Politics vs Economics.
Full employment doesn’t mean all workers benefit 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.
Michael Cameron’s article in The Conversation suggest that this doesn’t apply to all workers. 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)
Just going through the Natural Rate of Unemployment with my A2 class and I remembered a post I did last year. Free Exchange in The Economist had an article which looked at the change in terminology used by Janet Yellen ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve. In a statement last year she alluded to the US economy near maximum employment and that rate rises could ensue. However only 69% of American adults have a job.
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). If a central bank wishes to stimulate demand below this level there is the concern that inflation will increase therefore they take a guess as to what is the natural rate of unemployment – the lowest rate of unemployment where prices don’t accelerate. Maximum unemployment is the same in that it refers to the labour market being as tight as it can be without increasing prices. Natural rates in the US have varied – around 5.3% in 1950 and then peaking at 6.3% in the stagflation period before falling 4.9% in 2008 and then rising to 5.1% after the GFC, see graph below.
NRU and its causes
The NRU mainly depends on the level of frictional unemployment – defined as those who are in between jobs. This number can vary as at different times of the business cycle as there can be a delay in matching those looking for work with the vacancies themselves – a mismatch sometimes referred to as Structural Unemployment. The increase in frictional unemployment in the 1970’s and 80’s was largely due to the decline in manufacturing jobs with the advent of automation and more right wing policies (Reagan and Thatcher). Workers would stay unemployed in the hope that good high paid manufacturing jobs would reappear.
Unions can also influence the NRU with protecting workers jobs and pushing up wages so that employers find it too costly to employ more labour. However the fall in the 1990’s could be due to the advent of technology in the hiring process and the growth of part-time jobs which assisted those workers facing a career change.
Another influence on the NRU is wage growth as with the higher wages you attract more of the labour force to engage in actively looking for work.
A central bank will have to use trial and error to make a decision on how much spare capacity there is in an economy. Only when prices start to increase do they have an idea how capacity is running.
Quality not Quantity
As alluded to by The Economist the goal of full employment must consider the quality of jobs as well. With the acceleration of technology over labour, maximum employment should consider more than capacity constraints or inflationary pressure.
Rather, governments need to consider the options available to workers: not just how easily they can find jobs they want, but also how readily they can refuse jobs they do not. By lifting obstacles to job changes and giving workers a social safety net that enables them to refuse the crummiest jobs, societies can foster employment that is not just full, but fulfilling.
Sources: The Economist 28th January 2017, St Louis Federal Reserve – Natural Rate of Unemployment