Unemployment and Wage Rigidity When Labor Supply Is a Household Decision
If people's labor-supply decisions are taken at the level of the household, it is natural to expect aggregate demand and unemployment to influence the supply curve of labor. An increase in unemployment could prompt households to send more workers out in search of work to insure against the risk of the primary worker getting unemployed (the 'added worker effect'). But it could also discourage people from wasting energy searching for work (the 'discouragement effect'). While these effects have been studied empirically, their theoretical bases remain largely unexplored. The present paper formally models household labor supply decisions and establishes sufficient conditions for the domination of one effect over the other. A number of surprising results are established, such as the possibility of multiple equilibria in the labor market and how the announcement of a minimum wage policy can result in an overall lowering of wages and also give rise to an equilibrium which displays, simultaneously, excess demand and excess supply of labor. The model shows how the empirical literature may have a bias in overestimating the strength of the discouragement effect. It also provides a framework for analyzing the effects of minimum wage policy and the provision of unemployment benefits. It is argued that certain kinds of unemployment benefits can be justified on grounds of efficiency.
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