Active labor market policies in the OECD and in selected transition economies
Transition economies have introduced a range of OECD active labor market policies to combat unemployment - albeit often on paper only, as with rising unemployment passive policies have crowded out active ones. But even in the Czech Republic, active labor market policies have contributed only marginally to reducing unemployment. One task for policymakers in Central and Eastern Europe must be to convey the message that, even under the best circumstances, active labor policies can play only a marginal role in reducing unemployment. OECD labor policies cannot be applied mechanically in Central and Eastern Europe because the situation there is different. Severe and persistent shortages in capital and managerial ability are sure to keep labor demand weak in the medium term, while labor supply will be abundant. As enterprises are restructured and liquidated, the newly unemployed workers cannot be absorbed by the weak private sector and must compete for scarce jobs. Women and older, less educated men have particular trouble finding work. Which active labor policies does the author suggest might be effective? Limited funds for active labor policies might best be spent retraining the most able unemployed workers to develop skills needed in the private sector. Public employment programs might be targeted especially to problem groups of workers and to the long-term unemployed - more for reasons of equity than of efficiency. The point is to have a clear idea whether both aims of efficiency and equity can be pursued and, if efficiency gains are unrealistic, whether equity considerations are politically indispensable. Because nontradable services are underdeveloped, Central and Eastern European countries might eliminate credit rationing that discourages self-employment (the self-employed have trouble getting financing). Improving consulting services for the unemployed in Hungary, Poland, and Russia makes more sense than applying a broad menu of OECD programs. The labor market in the Russian Federation appears to be more dynamic than in Hungary and Poland, but this is probably because of massive labor hoarding in Russian enterprises. Once they start shedding labor in earnest, their employment figures will look more like those in the other Central and Eastern European countries.
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