Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Thirty Years of International Labor Research

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Thirty Years of International Labor Research

Article excerpt

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an economic bloc of 34 member countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. The OECD is well known for its research and policy recommendations. It is also an international statistical agency that compiles data on a wide variety of economic subjects. One of its major subject areas for research, policy, and statistics is the labor market, and the flagship publication in this arena is the OECD's annual Employment Outlook. (1) The Outlook is viewed as a benchmark for labor market research and forecasting. Its authors apply state-of-the-art research methods and special data compilations to reach labor market policy recommendations.

This research summary presents an overview of the Employment Outlook from its origin in 1983, focusing on its evolution over time, its influence on policy and statistical indicators, and possible directions for future editions. A longer version of this summary (2) is available on the OECD website.

Evolution of topics

It is clear that the topics covered in the Employment Outlook have mirrored the problems or challenges occurring in most OECD member country labor markets. High on this list is overall joblessness: from 1983 to 2012, unemployment has ebbed and flowed, with levels of 10 percent or higher, on average, reached in the mid-1980s, mid-1990s, and again in the most recent recession. Consequently, overall joblessness is covered in all editions. When unemployment has been lower, the emphasis of the Outlook has turned to structural unemployment developments rather than crisis levels.

The first edition set the stage for issues and policies that would reappear in future Outlooks. For example, early on there was a focus on youth unemployment and long-term unemployment, which have come to be persistent and seemingly intractable problems, with rates remaining high, especially in Europe, in the years since 1983.

The second edition of the Employment Outlook (1984) also was a stage setter, by launching what would prove to be a long-running debate on the value and ramifications of flexibility in the functioning of the overall economy. Such flexibility includes flexible labor, product, and capital markets. The flexibility argument for U.S.--Europe labor market differences developed into a full-scale debate. What does flexibility mean? It is not just wage adjustments: flexibility includes work organization, workforce mobility, and human capital formation. The debate examined the tradeoff between flexibility and employment security.

An "Active Society," which was first mentioned in the 1988 edition of the Outlook, was further emphasized in subsequent editions. The OECD brought the ideas behind the concept together in a new framework that advocates a medium- to long-term strategy and recommends a shift away from measures that generate dependency on income transfers to those which mobilize the labor supply and foster economic opportunity, improve the efficiency of labor market matching, and develop employment-related skills. The "Active Society" stresses that labor market policy is part of a larger policy package based on a broad system of monitoring and review of labor markets. Such monitoring occurred in the Outlook starting in 1992, with a review of the public employment service in a number of member countries.

In 1993, the OECD noted the importance of relying not just on one single labor market measure, such as unemployment, to gauge the state of the labor market, but on other important indicators as well. Mentioned were the employment--population ratio, nonemployment measures, and job quality (as measured by part-time versus full-time earnings and temporary versus permanent employment).

In 1995, the Employment Outlook returned to the theme of supplementary measures of labor market slack. One article introduced two additional unemployment measures: discouraged workers and involuntary part-time workers. …

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