Labor and Social Protection
Europe faces a significant job challenge. At an average of 11 percent, unemployment remains stubbornly high while labor force participation, at 58 percent of the working age population, lags behind most other regions of the world. This means, that only every second person in working age currently has a paying job across the region. Addressing the job challenge requires multifaceted labor market policies. We argue however that reducing the tax burden on labor, which remains high across the region, holds the promise of improving labor market outcomes. Such tax cuts could especially target low-wage workers, which often face the highest marginal tax rates and very elastic labor demand and are therefore most likely to be priced out of the formal labor market.
This week, the World Bank, in partnership with the government of Brazil and the State of Rio de Janeiro, is co-hosting a South-South Learning Forum to promote knowledge exchange among policymakers from developing countries on ways to improve the design of social protection and labor systems at the policy, program and service delivery levels.
Over the next 10 years, Africa will have created about 122 million new jobs, says the World Bank Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa Report. Although this is a very exciting forecast, mass job availability alone won’t be enough to address the unemployment issues in Africa, especially when the new jobs are not proportional to the influx of unemployed youth. Furthermore, the pace at which these jobs are being created falls short of the rate of youth entering the job market per year. During the next ten years that it takes for Africa to finally create the new jobs, eleven million youth will have been entering the labor market each year.
“It is not what you know that matters, it is who you know” is how the old adage goes, and so I have observed from my conversations with family and friends during my recent visit back to my hometown in East Jerusalem when I asked what they thought of the often heard complaint among Arab youth that “wasta” is all that matters in landing a decent job nowadays.
- Social Development
- Labor and Social Protection
- Middle East and North Africa
- Yemen, Republic of
- West Bank and Gaza
- United Arab Emirates
- Syrian Arab Republic
- Saudi Arabia
- Iran, Islamic Republic of
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain. This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People. In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider. I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that.
Each month, about one million people enter the labor force in Africa. Another one million start looking for work in India. Add to this millions of others around the globe, and worldwide, some one billion people will enter the labor force between now and 2030.
Why is that date important? That’s the deadline World Bank Group President Jim Kim has set for ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Making this happen will require not only a healthy and skilled labor force, but also requires creating ample job opportunities, and ensuring that young adults can find productive work.
The recent article in Mada Masr about Egypt’s new public-sector minimum wage “falling short” makes the right point—that the increase will exacerbate inequality—but for the wrong reason. It is not because the new minimum wage is “not applied on the national level or across sectors.” It is because nearly three out of four Egyptian workers are small farmers, self- employed or work in the informal sector. These workers will not benefit from any increase in the minimum wage, whether it is restricted to the public sector or not. About 41 percent of those in the informal sector earn less than the previous minimum wage of EGP 700, and 75 percent earn less than the new minimum wage of EGP 1,200. The government has just increased the wages of those who are already earning more than about half the workforce.
Taxing Labor versus Taxing Consumption?
Europe’s welfare systems face substantial demographic headwinds. Increasing life expectancy and the approaching retirement of “Baby Boomers” will increase public expenditures for years to come. Rightfully, much attention is focused on containing additional spending needs for pensions, health and long term care. But how is all this being paid for?
Currently, the majority of social spending, including most importantly pension benefits, in most countries in Europe and Central Asia is financed through social security contributions, which are essentially taxes on labor. This has two important implications. First, in terms of fiscal sustainability, the growth in spending is only a concern if expenditures grow faster than the corresponding revenues. Since labor taxes are the predominant source of financing for most welfare systems in both EU and transition countries, aging will not only increase spending, but simultaneously exert pressure on revenues. With the exception of countries in Central Asia and Turkey, the labor force, and hence the number of taxpayers that pay labor taxes will decline by about 20 percent on average across the region. Second, already today, labor taxes, including both personal income taxes and social security contributions account on average for about 40 percent of total gross labor costs in Europe and Central Asia (including EU member states), compared to an average of 34 percent in the OECD. This means that for every US$ 1 received in net earnings, employers on average incur a labor cost of US$ 1.67. And out of the 67 cents that are paid in labor taxes, 43 cents (or 65 percent) are directly used to finance social security benefits. By increasing the cost of labor, the high tax burden potentially harms competitiveness, job creation, and growth in countries in the region.