Friday, May 22, 2009

US Unemployment Rate Higher than Europe's?

. Friday, May 22, 2009

It is expected that when the April international unemployment numbers are released, the United States will have a higher jobless rate than Europe. The United States' rate is already on par with European averages, a factoid that would have surprised many just a few months ago. 

For many years, unemployment in the United States was lower than in Western Europe, a fact often cited by people who argued that the flexibility inherent in the American system — it is easier to both hire and fire workers than in many European countries — produced more jobs.
In April, the rate in the United States rose to 8.9 percent. When the European figures are compiled, it seems likely that the American rate will be higher for the first time since Eurostat began compiling the numbers in 1993.

For men, the unemployment rate in the United States surpassed that of the 15 original European Union countries in December. By March, it was 9.5 percent in the United States, compared with just 7.5 percent for women. The figures for men and women in the 15 European countries, however, are close together, at 8.4 percent and 8.5 percent.
How did that happen during a worldwide recession? First, it appears that the safety nets in many Western European economies made it easier for people to keep their jobs as the economy declined. In Germany, programs allow companies to get government help in paying workers, for example, keeping them employed. If the recession becomes severe enough and long enough, of course, it could turn out those programs do not so much avoid the pain as defer it.
In the United States, there has been more movement of workers from depressed areas to places where the employment outlook is brighter. But the housing crisis appears to be hampering such movement because some workers own homes that are worth far less than the amount they owe on their mortgages.

Among the 15 European Union countries, the national unemployment rates range from 2.8 percent in the Netherlands to 17.4 percent in Spain. That is a wider spread than the ones among American states, where the rates range from 4.2 percent in North Dakota to 12.6 percent in Michigan.
So I guess I'll add to the speculation. Another reason may be the extent and quality of European re-training programs and their ability to get workers back into the labor force after shorter adjustment periods. A vast chunk of the increase in American unemployment has come from financials, insurance, housing and retail (as well as unemployed graduate students argh!). Europe may simply have been less exposed to the problems in financials and housing. 

The rigidity of European labor markets also play a role; it is harder to lay off workers in Europe, thus causing a higher level of stickiness in labor markets. As the downturn drags on, we can expect larger increases in European unemployment levels. The United States sheds jobs at a quicker pace (because of relatively less sticky labor markets), with most lay-offs concentrated towards the beginning of a recession. Europe may simply be dragging on the labor market adjustment period with their generous social insurance programs and rigid labor markets. 

So the United States' unemployment rate could rise above Europe's in the short-run, but may be surpassed by Europe's as the downturn continues and as the (predicted) expansion begins. We may simply be observing a wider band for American unemployment rates over time, and a smaller band for the average European rate. 


Kindred Winecoff said...

i was just about to blog on this!

my take is similar to your second-to-last paragraph: so far, the story of this recession is that Europe has somewhat lagged the US: first we sneeze, then they get a cold. well, we just sneezed, but it may take a quarter or two for things to fully permeate through Europe.

or maybe not. maybe the EU leaders were right when they said that their "automatic stabilizers" were sufficient to head off a major rise in unemployment. but i doubt it. since 2007, France, Portugal, Finland, Italy, Austria, Norway, and Switzerland have barely had any increase in unemployment at all, while Greece, Germany, Belgium, & the Netherlands have actually had employments gains since then. i really doubt that can persist.

especially since many of those places rely heavily on exports for employment.

US Unemployment Rate Higher than Europe's?




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