Recessions leave scars on the labor market. Over 200 million people across the globe are estimated to be unemployed at present resulting from the Great Recession of 2007–09. We assess the human cost of increased unemployment by surveying what is known about the effects of past recessions. If past is prologue, the cost to the unemployed (and society) could be high. The focus of this paper is on advanced economies. To their credit, most countries mounted strong policy responses to minimize the human costs, and the policy actions were notable also for their consistency and coherence across countries.
Mr. Athanasios Vamvakidis, Mr. Francis Vitek, Ms. Mwanza Nkusu, Mr. Reginald Darius, Mr. Alun H. Thomas, and Edouard Vidon
The human cost of the recent global crisis is reflected in its impact on the labor market. Explaining why economies with similar downturns had very different employment trends can help design policies to reduce such costs and improve labor markets. This paper analyzes the recent employment experiences of six economies: Germany, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden. These economies represent a wide range of labor market institutions, policy responses, and outcomes to the crisis. The divergence of labor market outcomes and of the effectiveness of policies during the crisis can be explained by the interaction between the nature of the shocks and differences in the structure and institutions of each country’s economy. The worst job losses compared to the drop in output followed permanent shocks, particularly in dual labor markets and in the presence of wage rigidities. Policies to avoid job cuts were much more effective when they were well-targeted and responded to temporary shocks. In contrast, policies to facilitate labor movements were more appropriate following permanent shocks.
Today’s record public debt levels in most advanced economies are not only a direct fall-out from the global crisis. Public debt had ratcheted up over many decades before, when it had been used, in most of the G-7 countries, as the ultimate shock absorber—rising in bad times but not declining much in good times. Alongside, primary spending increased, particularly during 1965–85, reflecting predominantly a surge in health care and pension spending. Looking ahead, advanced economies will face the formidable challenge of reducing debt ratios at a time when ageing-related spending, in particular often underestimated pressures from health care systems, will put additional pressure on public finances. Addressing these fiscal challenges will require growth-friendly structural reforms, a fiscal strategy involving gradual but steady fiscal adjustment, stronger fiscal institutions, expenditure and revenue reforms, and an appropriate degree of burden sharing across all stakeholders.
This paper discusses how to enhance automatic stabilizers without increasing the size of government. We distinguish between permanent changes in the parameters of the tax and expenditure system (e.g., changes in tax progressivity) that will enhance the traditional automatic stabilizer, and temporary changes triggered by certain economic developments (e.g., tax measures targeted at credit and liquidity constrained households, triggered during a severe downturn). We argue that, with some exceptions, the latter are preferable as they can be implemented with lower disruptions in other fiscal policy goals (e.g., economic efficiency). Moreover, countries should also avoid introducing procyclicality as a result of fiscal rules, as these would offset the effect of existing automatic stabilizers.
This note reflects macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts presented with the April 2009 World Economic Outlook, as well as information on fiscal stimulus and financial and industrial sector support gathered through mid-May. It follows the request by G-20 leaders for the Fund to assess regularly the actions taken by countries to address the global crisis and accelerate the recovery.