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The effects of inflation on wage adjustments in firm-level data: grease or sand?

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  • Erica L. Groshen
  • Mark E. Schweitzer

Abstract

This paper studies the effects of inflation on wage changes made by firms in a unique thirty-seven-year panel of occupations and employers drawn from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Community Salary Survey (CSS). Our analysis first identifies two relative prices embedded in wage changes and, second, draws inferences about the costs and benefits of inflation from the adjustments in these relative prices. Typically, firms manage employer-wide wage adjustments (controlling for occupational wage changes) separately from their interoccupational wage changes (controlling for employer wage hikes). Consistent with this observation, we identify large independent employer and occupational components of wage changes in the CSS. Although there is no a priori reason why these adjustments should be altered by inflation (when the average change is subtracted out), we find that variation in both of these terms rises as inflation grows. Guided by institutional wage-setting procedures, we view employers' mean wage hikes as subject to intra-market variations in the speed of adjustment to inflation and forecasting errors. In contrast, we argue that occupational wage movements include a higher concentration of inter-market relative price adjustments. This simple dichotomy, whose robustness we attempt to test, yields two policy-oriented results. First, higher inflation and labor productivity appear to increase the rate of occupational wage adjustments ("grease"), although these potential benefits taper off after inflation rises to about 4 percent (assuming 1.5 percent average growth of labor productivity.) Second, potentially inefficient variations in employer wage adjustments ("sand") continue to mount until inflation reaches rates of 7 to 10 percent (again assuming productivity growth of 1.5 percent).

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 9.

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Date of creation: 1996
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:9

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Keywords: Inflation (Finance) ; Labor productivity ; Labor market ; Wages;

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References

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  1. Allan Drazen & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1986. "Inflation and Wage Dispersion," NBER Working Papers 1811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. David Card, 1988. "Unexpected Inflation, Real Wages, and Employment Determination in Union Contracts," NBER Working Papers 2768, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David Card & Dean Hyslop, 1996. "Does Inflation "Grease the Wheels of the Labor Market"?," NBER Working Papers 5538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Harry J. Holzer & Edward B. Montgomery, 1990. "Asymmetries and Rigidities in Wage Adjustments by Firms," NBER Working Papers 3274, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Ball, Laurence & Mankiw, N. Gregory, 1994. "A sticky-price manifesto," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 127-151, December.
  8. Erica L. Groshen & Mark E. Schweitzer, 1997. "Identifying inflations grease and sand effects in the labor market," Working Paper 9705, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  9. George A. Akerlof & William R. Dickens & George L. Perry, 1996. "The Macroeconomics of Low Inflation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(1), pages 1-76.
  10. Haley, James, 1990. " Theoretical Foundations for Sticky Wages," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(2), pages 115-55.
  11. Katharine G. Abraham & John C. Haltiwanger, 1995. "Real Wages and the Business Cycle," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(3), pages 1215-1264, September.
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  18. Cukierman, Alex, 1983. "Relative price variability and inflation: A survey and further results," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 103-157, January.
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  22. Sheshinski, Eytan & Weiss, Yoram, 1977. "Inflation and Costs of Price Adjustment," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 287-303, June.
  23. Vining, Daniel R, Jr & Elwertowski, Thomas C, 1976. "The Relationship between Relative Prices and the General Price Level," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(4), pages 699-708, September.
  24. Julie L. Hotchkiss, 1990. "Compensation policy and firm performance: An annotated bibliography of machine-readable data files," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 43(3), pages 274-289, February.
  25. Cecchetti, Stephen G., 1986. "The frequency of price adjustment : A study of the newsstand prices of magazines," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 255-274, April.
  26. Friedman, Milton, 1977. "Nobel Lecture: Inflation and Unemployment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 451-72, June.
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