Syndicate content

economic crisis

Can wage subsidies boost employment in the wake of an economic crisis?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Unemployment often rises during an economic crisis and policymakers take a range of actions to try to mitigate this increase. For example, 22 countries around the world used some form of wage subsidy program to promote employment retention during the recent crisis. Many studies have looked at the effect of wage subsidies on employment in non-crisis times, with mixed findings. But, there is not much evidence on whether wage subsidies can raise employment in the wake of a crisis.

Conceptually, wage subsidies during a crisis may make sense since layoffs could slow down the recovery as re-hiring and training workers may be costly for firms. This is particularly true for workers with job-specific skills. For these workers, it may be beneficial for firms to not let them go in the first place. However, as firms face lower demand for their products, they may not have the financial means to keep paying these workers, particularly in the presence of credit constraints, which are often exacerbated during a crisis. This is where wage subsidies come in. But, ultimately, we just don’t know whether these subsidies really cause firms to retain workers they otherwise would not have retained.

Ladies First? Understanding Whose Job is Vulnerable in a Crisis

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

In an economic crisis, whose job do employers put on the chopping block first? Many gender equality advocates and policymakers are concerned that “women are at risk of being hired last and dismissed first” during crises. This concern is fuelled by evidence showing that employers often discriminate against women even during less volatile times, that women often bear the brunt of coping with economic shocks, and that, in many countries, gender norms prioritize men’s employment over women’s. Despite a lot of rhetoric, existing studies of the labor market consequences of macroeconomic crises have yielded ambiguous conclusions about the differential impact across genders. Might claims about women’s vulnerability be exaggerated?

Most studies that look at the distributional impact of crises rely on household and labor force data. However, these data cannot distinguish between two mechanisms that could account for gender differences in employment adjustment. First, differences in vulnerability could be the result of sorting by gender into firms and occupations that differ in their vulnerability to crises. In this case, the effect of gender is indirect; women may take jobs that are relatively more or less vulnerable. Second, there could be differential treatment of men and women workers within the same firm. Faced with the need to adjust, do employers treat women differently, either by firing them first or cutting their wages more? It is this second mechanism that underpins concerns about discrimination. To distinguish between these mechanisms, we need to compare the employment prospects and wage trajectories of men and women both across and within firms—which means we need firm-level data.