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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, September.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10032.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10032
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    1. Barro, Robert J & Grossman, Herschel I, 1971. "A General Disequilibrium Model of Income and Employment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(1), pages 82-93, March.
    2. Christopher A. Sims, 1974. "Output and Labor Input in Manufacturing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 5(3), pages 695-736.
    3. Hause, John C, 1971. "Spectral Analysis and the Detection of Lead-Lag Relations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(1), pages 213-17, March.
    4. Coen, Robert M & Hickman, Bert G, 1970. "Constrained Joint Estimation of Factor Demand and Production Functions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 52(3), pages 287-300, August.
    5. Robert M. Solow & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1968. "Output, Employment, and Wages in the Short Run," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(4), pages 537-560.
    6. Wesley Clair Mitchell, 1951. "What Happens During Business Cycles: A Progress Report," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number mitc51-1, September.
    7. Sargent, Thomas J, 1978. "Estimation of Dynamic Labor Demand Schedules under Rational Expectations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 1009-44, December.
    8. Baily, Martin Neil, 1977. "On the Theory of Layoffs and Unemployment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(5), pages 1043-63, July.
    9. Jeffrey D. Sachs, 1979. "Wages, Profits, and Macroeconomic Adjustment: A Comparative Study," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 10(2), pages 269-332.
    10. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number minc74-1, September.
    11. Medoff, James L, 1979. "Layoffs and Alternatives under Trade Unions in U.S. Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 380-95, June.
    12. Tatom, John A, 1980. "The "Problem" of Procyclical Real Wages and Productivity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(2), pages 385-94, April.
    13. Gerhard Bry, 1959. "The Average Workweek as an Economic Indicator," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bry_59-1, September.
    14. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Introduction to "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings"," NBER Chapters, in: Schooling, Experience, and Earnings, pages 1-4 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Chirinko, Robert S, 1980. "The Real Wage Rate over the Business Cycle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 62(3), pages 459-61, August.
    16. M. Ishaq Nadiri & Sherwin Rosen, 1973. "A Disequilibrium Model of Demand for Factors of Production," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number nadi73-1, September.
    17. Arthur F. Burns & Wesley C. Mitchell, 1946. "Measuring Business Cycles," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number burn46-1, September.
    18. Walter Y. Oi, 1962. "Labor as a Quasi-Fixed Factor," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 538.
    19. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1970. "Capacity, Overtime, and Empirical Production Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(2), pages 23-27, May.
    20. Altonji, Joseph & Ashenfelter, Orley, 1980. "Wage Movements and the Labour Market Equilibrium Hypothesis," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 47(187), pages 217-45, August.
    21. Harry Jerome, 1934. "Changes in Mechanization: Non-Manufacturing Industries," NBER Chapters, in: Mechanization in Industry, pages 120-178 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Harry Jerome, 1934. "Mechanization in Industry," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number jero34-1, September.
    23. Robert E. Hall, 1980. "Employment Fluctuations and Wage Rigidity," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 11(1, Tenth ), pages 91-142.
    24. 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.
    25. Otani, Ichiro, 1978. "Real Wages and Business Cycles Revisited," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(2), pages 301-04, May.
    26. Raisian, John, 1983. "Contracts, Job Experience, and Cyclical Labor Market Adjustments," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(2), pages 152-70, April.
    27. Geary, Patrick T & Kennan, John, 1982. "The Employment-Real Wage Relationship: An International Study," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(4), pages 854-71, August.
    28. Harry Jerome, 1934. "Changes in Mechanization in Selected Manufacturing Industries," NBER Chapters, in: Mechanization in Industry, pages 55-119 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    29. Neftci, Salih N, 1978. "A Time-Series Analysis of the Real Wages-Employment Relationship," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(2), pages 281-91, April.
    30. 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.
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