Private Deception and the Rise of Public Employment Offices in the United States, 1890-1930
In: Studies of Labor Market Intermediation
At the turn of the 20th century, state and local governments in the United States began to establish public employment offices. These non-profit governmental organizations match job seekers and businesses, one of their main objectives being to protect job seekers from fraudulent activities by private employment agencies. In this paper, I propose a theory that describes the malpractices of private employment agencies as a situation of asymmetric information between job seekers and the private employment agencies, which could cause adverse selection in the labor exchange market. The establishment of public employment offices can be viewed as a policy device to eliminate low-quality private employment agencies committing malpractices. I show that public employment offices helped lower the degree of asymmetric information. The majority of job seekers who used public employment offices were unskilled workers, immigrants, or migrants, who were vulnerable to exploitation by private employment agencies. I also find that the role of public employment offices was especially important for interstate migrants who were most lacking in information and networks in their new environment.
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