Archives for unemployment

Of Booze and Bags

The Austin City Council is about to outlaw the paper and plastic bags you get at the grocery store. Retailers don’t like the ban. One particularly clever argument by liquor retailers is that it will encourage people to buy less — not a good thing, so they argue, when unemployment is high. 

This is a bad argument for so many reasons: 1) Booze demand and bag provision are at most only a tiny bit complementary — one can always carry the six-pack out by hand; 2) To argue that high unemployment is a reason for anything other than macro stimuli is totally self-serving.  I think all universities should hire more economists to reduce unemployment (although others may differ). The best argument against the ban is that it is not efficient—the environmental improvements don’t justify the extra resource cost of schlepping reusable bags into stores.  I don’t find even that argument to be very persuasive.

(HT to TC).

Less Work Time = More TV, Grooming Time

What would we do with our time if we suddenly didn’t have to work as much but were just as healthy and had the same income? This question is ages-old, was posed by Keynes in 1930, but is very hard to answer: sudden, permanent drops in work time that change nothing else are very rare. They did occur in Japan in the 1990s and Korea in the 2000s, when their governments induced employers to cut work hours. In a recent paper Jungmin Lee, Daiji Kawaguchi and I use time diaries from before and after the changes to see what happened. In Japan, almost half the free time was devoted to additional TV-watching, while in Korea, much was devoted to increased personal care, particularly grooming. But in neither was there any increase in home production — child care, cooking, gardening, etc. I like to think the same would occur in the U.S. — that we would use permanent cuts in work time to enjoy ourselves and take more care of ourselves. Regrettably in the workaholism champion of the Western world, these cuts don’t seem likely any time soon.

The Slightly-Bright Side for Boomers in the Recession

A new working paper (full version here) by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahid Tabatabai examines the impact the Great Recession has had on the wealth and income of Baby Boomers nearing retirement. It finds, somewhat surprisingly, that their aggregate wealth decreased very little over the past few years:

The retirement wealth held by those ages 53 to 58 before the onset of the recession in 2006 declined by a relatively modest 2.8 percentage points by 2010. … Very few in the population nearing retirement age have experienced multiple adverse events. Although most of the loss in wealth is due to a fall in the net value of housing, because very few in this cohort have found their housing wealth under water, and housing is the one asset this cohort is not likely to cash in for another decade or two, there is time for their losses in housing wealth to recover.

Read More »

More People Are Quitting Their Jobs. How Good of a Sign Is That?

Fact: in September, we put out an hour-long Freakonomics Radio podcast called “The Upside of Quitting.”

Fact: in September, more Americans quit their jobs than in any month since Nov., 2008.


Actually, it’s not even a coincidence. The podcast was out on Sept. 30; the resignations (2 million of them) covered the month of September.

That said, more resignations would seem to indicate an improving economy. From Time:

According to a recent survey by job-search site Snagajob, 44% of respondents who quit in the past year did so believing they would find a better opportunity elsewhere, up from 31% the year before.

Why, you might wonder, is Time citing Snagajob rather than a government source? And should we believe those numbers? Read More »

The Trouble Behind the New Unemployment Data

The November unemployment data that came out on Friday has Democrats crowing about the drop in the unemployment rate; yet Republicans are rightly pointing out that much of the drop was due to labor-force withdrawal. Neither party, however, seems to be noticing the most remarkable thing: the continuing, constant and historically high share of unemployment accounted for by the long-term unemployed, around 43 percent. This is bad for society for two reasons:

1. The burden of unemployment—the loss in utility—must increase the longer one is unemployed (and has perhaps exhausted savings and unemployment benefits).

2. With unemployment concentrated so narrowly, fewer people than otherwise experience the pain, so the political pressure to do anything to ameliorate the situation is lessened.

The huge rise in long-term unemployment, and the huge rise in the share of income accruing to the top 1 percent of households, both work to dis-integrate American society.

Does Raising the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?

Conventional wisdom holds that instituting or raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment. But a recent paper by Jeremy Magruder, an economist at Berekley, finds the opposite effect. Magruder examines the case of Indonesia in the 1990s, “where real minimum wages rose rapidly in a varied way and then dropped quickly with the inflation rate in the South East Asian financial crash.” Here’s an excerpt:

When minimum wages rose in one district relative to their neighbors, that district observed an increase in formal sector employment and a decrease in informal employment. It also observed an increase in local expenditures, which is consistent with the hypothesized mechanism of the big push: that local product demand increases labor demand. Moreover, this increase was only observed in local industries which can be industrialized and do supply local demand, supporting the model further. Tradable manufacturing firms saw no growth in employment, and un-tradable, but non-industrializable services saw an increase in informal employment.

Read More »

System D: The Shadow Economy is the Second Largest in the World

In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world’s workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world’s workers.

This new economy even has a name: “System D.”

In a new article (accompanying photoessay here) for Foreign Policy, Robert Neuwirth explains:

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise.” Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D.” This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy.

Read More »

Paying the Rent After the Pink Slip

A recent national survey indicates that “[o]ne in three Americans would be unable to make their mortgage or rent payment beyond one month if they lost their job.” Even higher-income households would find themselves in trouble quickly: “Ten percent of survey respondents earning $100K or more a year say they would immediately miss a payment.”

Even more Americans — 61 percent — wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or mortgage after five months of unemployment. Given the current state of the economy, it’s perhaps wise to heed Suze Orman‘s 2008 advice on this blog — she recommended an eight-month emergency savings fund. Read More »