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Stemming the Tide: What Have EU Countries Done to Support Low-Wage Workers in an Era of Downward Wage Pressures?


  • Marchal, Sarah

    () (University of Antwerp)

  • Marx, Ive

    () (University of Antwerp)


Governments across the EU have been striving to get more people into work while at the same time acknowledging that more needs to be done to 'make work pay'. Yet this drive comes at a time when structural economic shifts are putting pressure on wages, especially of less skilled workers. This article focuses on trends in minimum wages, income taxes, and work-related benefits within a selection of 16 EU countries, for the period 2001-2012, with three US states included as reference cases. We find evidence for eroding relative minimum wages in various EU countries, yet combined with catch-up growth in the new Member States. We also find that governments counteracted eroding minimum wages through direct income support measures, especially for lone parents. Most prevalent among these were substantial declines in income tax liabilities. More generally we see a trend unfolding towards a fiscalization of income support policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Marchal, Sarah & Marx, Ive, 2015. "Stemming the Tide: What Have EU Countries Done to Support Low-Wage Workers in an Era of Downward Wage Pressures?," IZA Discussion Papers 9390, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp9390

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sinn, Hans-Werner, 2002. "EU Enlargement and the Future of the Welfare State," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 49(1), pages 104-115, February.
    2. François Rycx & Stephan Kampelmann, 2013. "Who Earns Minimum Wages in Europe? New Evidence Based on Household Surveys," DULBEA Working Papers 13-01, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    3. Natascha Van Mechelen & Sarah Marchal, 2013. "Trends and convergence of Europe’s minimum income schemes," ImPRovE Working Papers 13/11, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    4. Scharpf, Fritz W., 2002. "The European Social Model: Coping with the challenges of diversity," MPIfG Working Paper 02/8, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    5. Marx, Ive & Marchal, Sarah & Nolan, Brian, 2012. "Mind the Gap: Net Incomes of Minimum Wage Workers in the EU and the US," IZA Discussion Papers 6510, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Carlos Farinha Rodrigues, 2012. "Minimum Income in Portugal: Changing the Rules in Times of Crisis," Working Papers Department of Economics 2012/05, ISEG - Lisbon School of Economics and Management, Department of Economics, Universidade de Lisboa.
    7. Lane Kenworthy, 2015. "Do employment-conditional earnings subsidies work?," ImPRovE Working Papers 15/10, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    8. Freeman, Richard B, 1996. "The Minimum Wage as a Redistributive Tool," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(436), pages 639-649, May.
    9. Paetzold, Jörg & van Vliet, Olaf, 2012. "Convergence without hard criteria: Does EU soft law affect domestic unemployment protection schemes?," Working Papers in Economics 2012-9, University of Salzburg.
    10. Natascha Van Mechelen & Sarah Marchal & Tim Goedemé & Ive Marx & Bea Cantillon, 2011. "The CSB-Minimum Income Protection Indicators dataset (CSB-MIPI)," Working Papers 1105, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    11. Immervoll, Herwig, 2012. "Reforming the Benefit System to 'Make Work Pay': Options and Priorities in a Weak Labour Market," IZA Policy Papers 50, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    Cited by:

    1. Dieter Vandelannoote & Gerlinde Verbist, 2017. "The Impact of In-Work Benefits on Employment and Poverty," Working Papers 1702, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    2. Jeroen Horemans & Ive Marx & Brian Nolan, 2016. "Hanging in, but only just: part-time employment and in-work poverty throughout the crisis," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, December.
    3. repec:bla:jcmkts:v:55:y:2017:i:2:p:240-256 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Bea Cantillon & Sarah Marchal & Chris Luigjes, 2015. "Decent incomes for the poor: which role for Europe?," ImPRovE Working Papers 15/20, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    5. Tine Hufkens & Linde Buysse & Natascha & Gerlinde Verbist, 2017. "Fit for the labour market? An effort to reduce inactivity traps in the transition from benefit to work in the Belgian sickness and disability system," Working Papers 1711, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    6. Chrysa Leventi & Holly Sutherland & Iva Valentinova Tasseva, 2016. "Improving poverty reduction in Europe: what works (best) where?," ImPRovE Working Papers 16/16, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    7. Dieter Vandelannoote & Gerlinde Verbist, 2016. "The design of in-work benefits: how to boost employment and combat poverty in Belgium," ImPRovE Working Papers 16/15, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    8. Zachary Parolin, 2016. "The Sum of Its Parts? Assessing Variation and Trends in Family Income Support Across the 48 Contiguous United States," Working Papers 1605, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    9. Kenworthy, Lane & Marx, Ive, 2017. "In-Work Poverty in the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 10638, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    lone parents; fiscalization; income support; minimum wage;

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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