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The Economics of Labor Market Intermediation: An Analytic Framework

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  • Autor, David

    ()
    (MIT)

Abstract

Labor Market Intermediaries (LMIs) are entities or institutions that interpose themselves between workers and firms to facilitate, inform, or regulate how workers are matched to firms, how work is accomplished, and how conflicts are resolved. This paper offers a conceptual foundation for analyzing the economic role played by these understudied institutions, and to develop a qualitative and, in some cases, quantitative sense of their significance to market operation and welfare. Though heterogeneous, I argue that LMIs share a common function, which is to redress – and in some cases exploit – a set of endemic departures of labor market operation from the efficient neoclassical benchmark. At a rudimentary level, LMIs such as online job boards reduce search frictions by aggregating and reselling disparate information at a cost below which workers and firms could obtain themselves. Beyond passively supplying information, a set of LMIs forcibly redress adverse selection problems in labor markets by compelling workers and firms to reveal normally hidden credentials, such as criminal background, academic standing, or financial integrity. At their most forceful, LMIs such as labor unions and centralized job matching clearinghouses resolve coordination and collective action failures in markets by tightly controlling – even monopolizing – the process by which workers and firms meet, match and negotiate. A unifying observation of the analytic framework is that participation in the activities of a given LMI are typically voluntary for one side of the market and compulsory for the other; workers cannot, for example, elect to suppress their criminal records and firms cannot opt out of collective bargaining. I argue that the nature of participation in an LMI’s activities – voluntary or compulsory, and for which parties – is dictated by the market imperfection that it addresses and thus tells us much about its economic function.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3705.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: David Autor (ed.), Studies of Labor Market Intermediation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3705

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Related research

Keywords: adverse selection; temporary-help; internet; job search; unions; intermediation; collective action;

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  1. Lawrence Katz & Alan Krueger, 1999. "The High-pressure U.S. Labor Market of the 1990s," Working Papers 795, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  2. David H. Autor & Susan N. Houseman, 2010. "Do Temporary-Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-Skilled Workers? Evidence from "Work First"," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 96-128, July.
  3. Susan N. Houseman, 2000. "Why Employers Use Flexible Staffing Arrangements: Evidence from an Establishment Survey," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 01-67, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  4. Carolyn J. Heinrich & Peter R. Mueser & Kenneth R. Troske, 2005. "Welfare to Temporary Work: Implications for Labor Market Outcomes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 154-173, February.
  5. Susan N. Houseman & Arne L. Kalleberg & George A. Erickcek, 2001. "The Role of Temporary Help Employment in Tight Labor Markets," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 01-73, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  6. Peter Kuhn & Mikal Skuterud, 2004. "Internet Job Search and Unemployment Durations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 218-232, March.
  7. Morris M. Kleiner, 2006. "Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting Competition?," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number lo.
  8. David Autor, 2000. "Wiring the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7959, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. David H. Autor, 2001. "Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1409-1448, November.
  10. Lewis Segal & Daniel Sullivan, 1996. "The growth of temporary services work," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues WP-96-26, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  11. Susan N. Houseman, . "Why Employers Use Flexible Staffing Arrangements: Evidence from an Establishment Survey," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles snh2001, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  12. Joseph G. Altonji & Todd E. Elder & Christopher R. Taber, 2000. "Selection on Observed and Unobserved Variables: Assessing the Effectiveness of Catholic Schools," NBER Working Papers 7831, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Basu, Kaushik, 2003. "The Economics and Law of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace," Working Papers 03-07, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  14. Diamond, Peter A, 1982. "Wage Determination and Efficiency in Search Equilibrium," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(2), pages 217-27, April.
  15. Katharine G. Abraham, 1988. "Flexible Staffing Arrangements and Employers' Short-Term Adjustment Strategies," NBER Working Papers 2617, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Krueger, Alan B & Summers, Lawrence H, 1988. "Efficiency Wages and the Inter-industry Wage Structure," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 259-93, March.
  17. David H. Autor, 2003. "Outsourcing at Will: The Contribution of Unjust Dismissal Doctrine to the Growth of Employment Outsourcing," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(1), pages 1-42, January.
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