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How useful is Okun's law?

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  • Edward S. Knotek
  • II

Abstract

From the beginning of 2003 through the first quarter of 2006, real gross domestic product in the United States grew at an average annual rate of 3.4 percent. As expected, unemployment during the period fell. Over the course of the next year, average growth slowed to less than half its earlier rate--but unemployment continued to drift downward. This situation presented a puzzle for policymakers and economists, who expected the unemployment rate to increase as the economy slowed. ; Typically, growth slowdowns coincide with rising unemployment. This negative correlation between GDP growth and unemployment has been named “Okun’s law.” Part of the enduring appeal of Okun’s law is its simplicity, since it involves two important macroeconomic variables. Additionally, the relationship appears to enjoy empirical support. In reality, though, Okun’s law is a statistical relationship rather than a structural feature of the economy. As with any statistical relationship, it may be subject to revisions in an ever-changing macro economy. ; Knotek considers the usefulness of Okun’s law for policymakers and economists. The evidence suggests that Okun’s relationship between changes in the unemployment rate and output growth has varied considerably over time and over the business cycle. Nevertheless, Okun’s relationship can still be useful as a forecasting tool--provided that one takes its instability into account.

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Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in its journal Economic Review.

Volume (Year): (2007)
Issue (Month): Q IV ()
Pages: 73-103

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedker:y:2007:i:qiv:p:73-103:n:v.92no.4

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  1. Peter M. Summers, 2005. "What caused the Great Moderation? : some cross-country evidence," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q III, pages 5-32.
  2. Clifford L. F. Attfield & Brian Silverstone, 1997. "Okun's Coefficient: A Comment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(2), pages 326-329, May.
  3. Robert Shimer, 2005. "The Cyclical Behavior of Equilibrium Unemployment and Vacancies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 25-49, March.
  4. Grant, Alan P., 2002. "Time-varying estimates of the natural rate of unemployment: a revisitation of Okun's law," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 95-113.
  5. Prachowny, Martin F J, 1993. "Okun's Law: Theoretical Foundations and Revised Estimates," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 75(2), pages 331-36, May.
  6. Olivier Blanchard & Jordi Gali, 2007. "A New Keynesian Model with Unemployment," Kiel Working Papers 1335, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
  7. Frank Smets & Raf Wouters, 2003. "An Estimated Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Model of the Euro Area," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(5), pages 1123-1175, 09.
  8. Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, 2003. "Okun's Law Revisited," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 65(4), pages 439-451, 09.
  9. Moosa, Imad A., 1997. "A Cross-Country Comparison of Okun's Coefficient," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 335-356, June.
  10. Todd E. Clark & Michael W. McCracken, 2007. "Forecasting with small macroeconomic VARs in the presence of instabilities," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-41, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  11. David Altig & Terry J. Fitzgerald & Peter Rupert, 1997. "Okun's law revisited: should we worry about low unemployment?," Economic Commentary, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue May.
  12. Weber, Christian E, 1995. "Cyclical Output, Cyclical Unemployment, and Okun's Coefficient: A New Approach," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(4), pages 433-45, Oct.-Dec..
  13. Lee, Jim, 2000. "The Robustness of Okun's Law: Evidence from OECD Countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 331-356, April.
  14. Glenn D. Rudebusch, 2000. "How fast can the new economy grow?," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue feb25.
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