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Displacement, asymmetric information and heterogeneous human capital

  • Luojia Hu
  • Christopher Taber

In a seminal paper Gibbons and Katz (1991; GK) develop and empirically test an asymmetric information model of the labor market. The model predicts that wage losses following displacement should be larger for layoffs than for plant closings, which was borne out by data from the Displaced Workers Survey (DWS). In this paper, we take advantage of many more years of DWS data to examine how the difference in wage losses across plant closing and layoff varies with race and gender. We find that the differences between white males and the other groups are striking and complex. The "lemons" effect of layoff holds for white males as in the GK model, but not for the other three demographic groups (white females, black females, and black males). These three all experience a greater decline in earnings at plant closings than at layoffs. This results from two reinforcing effects. First, plant closings have substantially more negative effects on minorities than on whites. Second, layoffs seem to have more negative consequences for white men than the other groups. These findings suggest that the GK asymmetric information model is not sufficient to explain all of the data. We augment the model with heterogeneous human capital and show that this model can explain the findings. We also provide some additional evidence suggestive that both asymmetric information and heterogeneous human capital are important. In support of both explanations, we demonstrate that the racial and gender effects are surprisingly robust to region, industry and occupation controls. To look at the asymmetric information, we make use of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 which induced employers to lay off "protected" workers in mass layoffs rather than fire them for cause. As a result, relative to whites, a layoff would be a more negative signal for blacks after 1991 than before. If information is important, this would in turn imply that blacks experience a relatively larger loss in earnings at layoffs after 1991 than prior; and that's what we find in the data. In addition, as further evidence for heterogeneous human capital, we document for the first time in the literature that the two types of layoffs reported in the DWS data, namely layoffs due to "slack work" and "position abolished" have very different features when compared to plant closings. Finally, we simulate our model and show that it can match the data.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its series Working Paper Series with number WP-08-02.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhwp:wp-08-02
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  3. Robert Gibbons & Lawrence Katz, 1989. "Layoffs and Lemons," Working Papers 629, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. Laing, D., 1990. "Involuntary Layoffs in a Model with Asymmetry Information Concerning Worker Ability," Papers 12-90-4, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
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  7. Altonji, Joseph G. & Blank, Rebecca M., 1999. "Race and gender in the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 48, pages 3143-3259 Elsevier.
  8. Stevens, Ann Huff, 1997. "Persistent Effects of Job Displacement: The Importance of Multiple Job Losses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 165-88, January.
  9. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  10. Akerlof, George A, 1976. "The Economics of Caste and of the Rat Race and Other Woeful Tales," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 599-617, November.
  11. Burdett, Kenneth & Mortensen, Dale T, 1998. "Wage Differentials, Employer Size, and Unemployment," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 39(2), pages 257-73, May.
  12. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-61, September.
  13. Richard Startz & Lundberg, . "Private Discrimination and Social Intervention in Competitive Labor Markets," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 19-81, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
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