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The Cyclical Behavior of Industrial Labor Markets: A Comparison of the Prewar and Postwar Eras

In: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change

  • Ben S. Bernanke
  • James Powell

This paper studies the cyclical behavior of a number of industrial labor markets of the pre-war (1923-1939) and post-war (1954-1982) eras. In the spirit of Burns and Mitchell we do not test a specific structural model of the labor market but instead concentrate on describing the qualitative features of the (monthly, industry-level) data.The two principal questions we ask are: First, how is labor input (as measured by the number of workers, the hours of work, and the intensity of utilization) varied over the cycle ? Second, what is the cyclical behaviorof labor compensation (as measured by real wages, product wages, and real weekly earnings) ? We study these questions in both the frequency domain and the time domain. Many of our findings simply reinforce, or perhaps refine, existing perceptions of cyclical labor market behavior. However, we do find some interesting differences between the pre-war and the post-war periods in ther elative use of layoffs and short hours in downturns, and in the cyclical behavior of the real wage.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gord86-1, August.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10032.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10032
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Ronald G. Bodkin, 1969. "Real Wages and Cyclical Variations in Employment: A Re-Examination of the Evidence," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 2(3), pages 353-374, August.
    2. M. Ishaq Nadiri & Sherwin Rosen, 1974. "A Disequilibrium Model of Demand for Factors of Production," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number nadi74-1, August.
    3. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1970. "Capacity, Overtime, and Empirical Production Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(2), pages 23-27, May.
    4. Morrison, C. J. & Berndt, E. R., 1981. "Short-run labor productivity in a dynamic model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 339-365, August.
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