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No Easy Answers: Comparative Labor Market Problems in the United States versus Europe

  • Rebecca M. Blank

Over the last two decades, virtually every western European nation has faced high and persistent unemployment. In frustration, many Europeans have looked to the United States, with its lower unemployment rates, as a model of labor market flexibility. The U.S. model has become less attractive, however, an analysts have come to recognize the extent of rising wage inequality in the United States over the past two decades, including sharp declines in wages among the less skilled. In short, both European countries and the United States have faces labor market problems in recent years. This article discusses some of the ways in which these labor market problems on either side of the Atlantic reflect different institutional responses to related economic problems. Both the U.S. and the European experiences demonstrate that there are no easy answers about how to operate a labor market which generates plenty of jobs for younger and less-skilled workers and which also offers these workers the opportunity to earn enough to support a family. Good policy choices will require mixing some of the best aspects of labor market flexibility with well- run activist labor market and social protection policies.

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Paper provided by Levy Economics Institute in its series Economics Working Paper Archive with number wp_188.

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Date of creation: Apr 1997
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Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_188
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  1. Richard B. Freeman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1995. "Differences and Changes in Wage Structures," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free95-1, July.
  2. Rebecca M. Blank, 1994. "Social Protection versus Economic Flexibility: Is There a Trade-Off?," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number blan94-1, July.
  3. Lindbeck, Assar & Snower, Dennis J., 1989. "Demand- and Supply-Side Policies and Unemployment: Policy Implications of the Insider-Outsider Approach," CEPR Discussion Papers 329, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Steven G. Allen, 1996. "Technology and the Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 5534, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Nada Eissa & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1995. "Labor Supply Response to the Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 5158, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. David G. Blanchflower & Richard B. Freeman, 1993. "Did the Thatcher Reforms Change British Labour Performance?," NBER Working Papers 4384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  8. Blank, Rebecca M, 1995. "Changes in Inequality and Unemployment over the 1980s: Comparative Cross-National Responses," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 8(1), pages 1-21, February.
  9. Berman, Eli & Bound, John & Griliches, Zvi, 1994. "Changes in the Demand for Skilled Labor within U.S. Manufacturing: Evidence from the Annual Survey of Manufactures," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(2), pages 367-97, May.
  10. Nickell, Stephen & Bell, Brian, 1995. "The Collapse in Demand for the Unskilled and Unemployment across the OECD," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 40-62, Spring.
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