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Labor Market Flexibility, Wages and Incomes in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s

  • Francis Teal
  • Geeta Kingdon
  • Justin Sandefur

This paper provides an overview of how African labor markets have performed in the 1990s. It is argued that the failure of African labor markets to create good paying jobs has resulted in excess labor supply in the form of either open unemployment or a growing self-employment sector. One explanation for this outcome is a lack of labor market `flexibility` keeping formal sector wages above their equilibrium level and restricting job creation. We identify three attributes of labor market flexibility. First whether real wages decline over time, secondly the tendency for wages to adjust in the face of unemployment, and thirdly the extent of wage differentials between sectors and/or firms of various size. Recent research shows that real wages in Africa during the 1990s may have been more downwardly flexible than previously thought and have been surprisingly responsive to unemployment rates, yet large wage differentials between formal and informal sector firms remain. This third sense of the term inflexibility can explain a common factor across diverse African economies - the high income divide between those working in large firms and those not. Those working in the thriving self-employment sector in Ghana have something in common with the unemployed in South Africa - both have very low income opportunities relative to those in large firms.

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Paper provided by University of Oxford, Department of Economics in its series Economics Series Working Papers with number GPRG-WPS-030.

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Date of creation: 01 Nov 2005
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Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:gprg-wps-030
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