Tag: real wages

Over recent years, labour markets have become more flexible. Both firms and workers have been much more adaptable to changing market conditions.

This has been illustrated by responses to the 2008/9 recession and the minimal recovery since then. Many firms have seen a drop in demand for their products and have responded by producing less. But this has not necessarily meant laying off workers. But why not? The following include some of the reasons:

• greater flexibility in hours worked: thus hours can be reduced;
• reduction in real wages because of wages not keeping up with inflation;
• many workers receiving part of their income in the form of profit sharing: when profits fall, employees’ income automatically falls;
• a general reduction in unionisation in the private sector;
• in firms where workers are still unionised, unions and management increasingly seeing themselves to be on the ‘same side’: thus unions more willing to explore flexibility;
• less support from state if people are unemployed;
• greater flexibility from the use of temporary or agency staff: these can be reduced in a recession, thus helping to protect the jobs of established workers.

The following podcast looks at this growing flexibility and why it has helped to restrict the rise in unemployment.

The real economy: Labour market BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis (24/8/11)

Agencies placing more in new jobs Western Mail (4/8/11)
Staff appointments increase at subdued pace in July, according to latest Report on Jobs The Recruitment & Employment Federation, News Release (4/8/11)
Manufacturing week: How we got here The Telegraph, Roland Gribben (27/8/11)
Jobless figures show the real risk of creating a lost generation London Evening Standard, Jonathan Portes, Director, National Institute of Economic and Social Research (17/8/11)
Flexible working: is more legislation needed? Personnel Today, Laura Chamberlain (1/9/11)
Recruitment agencies ‘play a big part’ in flexible working The Sales Director, John Oak (10/8/11)


  1. Find out what has happened to real GDP, employment and unemployment over the past four years. (Try searching Reference Tables for GDP and Labour Market Statistics on the National Statistics site at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/datasets-and-tables/index.html.)
  2. Distinguish between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the labour market? How has the relationship between the two groups changed in recent years?
  3. Distinguish between functional, numerical and financial flexibility of firms? (See Box 9.8 in Economics (7th ed), Web Case 6.2 in Essentials of Economics (5th ed), section 18.7 in Economics for Business (5th ed) or section 8.5 in Economics and the Business Environment (3rd ed).)
  4. Examine the effects of wage rises being less than the rate of inflation on the profit-maximising number of full-time equivalent people employed. How is this influenced by the rate of increase in the price of other inputs and the ability of the firm to raise prices in line with inflation?
  5. Should firms be required by law to allow workers to demand flexible working conditions? What forms might such flexibility take?

Bank rate in the UK has been at the historically low level of 0.5% since March 2009 and the MPC decision on 13 January was to leave the rate unchanged (see also). But inflation has been well above the Bank of England’s target of 2% since December 2009 and it could well rise further as international commodity prices are soaring. Some economists are thus arguing that Bank rate should rise. This is crucial, they say, to dampen inflationary expectations.

Other economists, however, argue that aggregate demand is likely to remain depressed and that the economy is operating with a large negative output gap. What is more, house prices are falling, as are real wages (see Bosses gain – workers’ pain)

In the following extract from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, two economists, Charles Goodhart and Willem Buiter, both former members of the MPC, debate the issue.

Should interest rates rise? BBC Today Programme (13/1/11)

Economic and Labour Market Review, Office for National Statistics (For inflation data see Tables Chapter 3, Table 3.01; for interest rates see Tables Chapter 5, Table 5.08)
Monetary Policy Committee Decisions Bank of England


  1. What are the arguments for a rise in Bank rate at the current time?
  2. What are the arguments against a rise in Bank rate at the current time?
  3. What information would you require to decide which of the arguments was the more powerful?
  4. Why is it difficult to decide the size of the output gap?
  5. To what extent do the arguments for and against a rise in Bank rate depend on the factors determining expectations, and what expectations are important here?
  6. To what extent are exchange rates relevant to the effectiveness of interest rate policy?