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Wages and the Value of Nonemployment

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  • Simon Jäger
  • Benjamin Schoefer
  • Samuel Young
  • Josef Zweimüller

Abstract

Nonemployment is often posited as a worker’s outside option in wage setting models such as bargaining and wage posting. The value of this state is therefore a fundamental determinant of wages and, in turn, labor supply and job creation. We measure the effect of changes in the value of nonemployment on wages in existing jobs and among job switchers. Our quasi-experimental variation in nonemployment values arises from four large reforms of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit levels in Austria. We document that wages are insensitive to UI benefit levels: point estimates imply a wage response of less than $0.01 per $1.00 UI benefit increase, and we can reject sensitivities larger than 0.03. In contrast, a calibrated Nash bargaining model predicts a sensitivity of 0.39 – more than ten times larger. The empirical insensitivity holds even among workers with a priori low bargaining power, with low labor force attachment, with high predicted unemployment duration, among job switchers and recently unemployed workers, in areas of high unemployment, in firms with flexible pay policies, and when considering firm-level bargaining. The insensitivity of wages to the nonemployment value we document presents a puzzle to widely used wage setting protocols, and implies that nonemployment may not constitute workers’ relevant threat point. Our evidence supports wage-setting mechanisms that insulate wages from the value of nonemployment.

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  • Simon Jäger & Benjamin Schoefer & Samuel Young & Josef Zweimüller, 2018. "Wages and the Value of Nonemployment," CESifo Working Paper Series 7342, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_7342
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    Cited by:

    1. von Buxhoeveden, Mathias, 2019. "Unemployment insurance and wage formation," Working Paper Series 2019:13, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
    2. Jäger, Simon & Schoefer, Benjamin & Zweimüller, Josef, 2019. "Marginal Jobs and Job Surplus: A Test of the Efficiency of Separations," IZA Discussion Papers 12127, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Simon Jäger & Benjamin Schoefer & Josef Zweimüller, 2018. "Marginal jobs and job surplus: a test of the efficiency of separations," ECON - Working Papers 314, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.

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    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J60 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - General
    • J65 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment Insurance; Severance Pay; Plant Closings

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