Pressure has been growing in the UK for people to be paid no less than a living wage. The Living Wage Foundation claims that this should be £8.55 per hour in London and £7.45 in the rest of the UK. The current minimum wage is £6.19.
There has been considerable support for a living wage across the political spectrum. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has stated that a Labour government would ensure that government employees were paid at least the living wage and that government contracts would go only to firms paying living wages. Other firms that paid less could be ‘named and shamed’. The living wage has also been supported by Boris Johnson, Conservative Mayor of London. The Prime Minister said that a living wage is ‘an idea whose time has come’, although many Conservatives oppose the idea.
The hourly living wage rate is calculated annually by the Centre for Research in Social Policy and is based on the basic cost of living. The London rate is calculated by the Greater London Authority.
Advocates of people being paid at least the living wage argue that not only would this help to reduce poverty, it would also help to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity by improving motivation and the quality of people’s work.
It would also bring in additional revenue to the government. According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Resolution Foundation, if everyone were paid at least a living wage, this would increase the earnings of the low paid by some £6.5bn per year. Of this, some £3.6bn would go to the government in the form of higher income tax and national insurance payments and reduced spending on benefits and tax credits. Of this £6.5bn, an extra £1.3 billion would be paid to public-sector workers, leaving the Treasury with a net gain of £2.3bn.
But what would be the effect on employment? Would some firms be forced to reduce their workforce and by how much? Or would the boost to aggregate demand from extra consumer spending more than offset this and lead to a rise in employment?. The following articles look at the possible effects.
How would you set about determining what the living wage rate should be?
Distinguish between absolute and relative poverty. Would people being paid below a living wage be best described as absolute or relative poverty (or both or neither)?
What do you understand by the term ‘efficiency wage’? How is this concept relevant to the debate about the effects of firms paying a living wage?
Under what circumstances would raising the statutory minimum wage rate to the living wage rate result in increased unemployment? How is the wage elasticity of demand for labour relevant to your answer and how would this elasticity be affected by all firms having to pay at least the living wage rate?
What would be the macroeconomic effects of all workers being paid at least the living wage rate? What would determine the magnitude of these effects?
Many developing Asian countries have experienced rapid and yet relatively stable economic growth over a number of years. In other words, this has not been a short-term unsustainable boom associated with the expansionary phase of the business cycle – with aggregate demand expanding more rapidly than aggregate supply. Rather it is the result of a rapid growth in aggregate supply.
Over the period from 2000 to 2011, several Asian countries experienced average annual growth rates of over 4% and some, such as China and India, much more than that, as the following table shows. The table also shows forecasts for the period from 2012 to 2017. The high forecast growth rates are based on a continuing rapid growth in aggregate supply as the countries invest in infrastructure and adopt technologies, many of which have already been developed elsewhere.
But for aggregate supply to continue growing rapidly there must also be a stable growth in aggregate demand. With the recession in the developed world, some of the more open economies of Asia, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore themselves suffered a slowdown or recession as demand for their exports fell. The Malaysian economy, for example, contracted by 1.5% in 2009.
Given the continuing macroeconomic problems in the developed world, many Asian countries are seeing the need to rebalance their economies away from a heavy reliance on exports. China, for example, is putting more emphasis on domestic-led demand growth. Others, such as Indonesia, have already embarked on this route. As The Economist article states:
Household consumption contributed half of the growth of just over 6% Indonesia enjoyed in the year to the third quarter (its eighth consecutive quarter of growth at that pace). Exports have fallen from about 35% of GDP ten years ago to less than a quarter in 2011. Developing Asia’s combined current-account surplus, which reflects its dependence on foreign demand, more than halved from 2008 to 2011 and is expected to fall further this year.
The continuing success story of many developing Asian economies thus lies in a balance of supply-side policies that foster continuing rapid investment and demand-side policies that create a stable monetary and fiscal environment. A crucial question here is whether they can emulate the ‘Great Moderation’ experienced by the Western economies from the mid-1990s to 2007, without creating the conditions for a crash in a few years time – a crash caused by excessive credit and an excessively deregulated financial system that was building up greater and greater systemic risk.
UK Unemployment figures for the July to September period have just been published. Perhaps surprisingly, the rate has fallen to 7.8% from 8.0% in the previous 3-month period. What is more, there have been similar 0.2 percentage-point falls in each of the two 3-month periods prior to that (see chart below).
This would normally suggest that the economy has been growing strongly and faster than the growth in potential output. But, despite positive economic growth in quarter 3 (see A positive turn of events?), the economy has been experiencing a prolonged period of low or negative growth.
So what is the explanation for the fall in unemployment? (For a PowerPoint of the chart, click here)
One reason is a greater flexibility in the labour market than in previous recessions. People are more willing to accept below inflation wage increases, or even nominal wage cuts, in return for greater job security. Others are prepared to reduce their hours.
The other reason is a fall in productivity (i.e. output per hour worked). One explanation is that people are not working so hard because, with a lack of demand, there is less pressure on them to be productive; a similar explanation is that firms are ‘hoarding’ labour in the hope that the market will pick up again.
Another explanation is that employment growth has often occurred in the low productivity industries, such as labour-intensive service industries; another is that when people leave their jobs they are replace by less productive workers on lower wages; another is that workers are making do with ageing equipment, whose productivity is falling, because firms cannot afford to invest in new equipment. An range of possible explanations is given on page 33 of the Bank of England’s November 2012 Inflation Report.
But with many predicting that growth will be negative again in 2012 quarter 4, the fall in unemployment may not continue. Britain may join many other countries in Europe and experience rising unemployment as well as falling output.
What possible explanation are there for the latest fall in unemployment?
What has been happening to employment, both full time and part time?
What are the different ways of measuring productivity? Why will they be affected differently by a fall in the average number of hours worked?
Why might it be in firms’ interests to maintain the level of their workforce despite falling sales?
Assume that there has been a fall in aggregate demand. Compare the resulting effect on consumption of (a) a fall in wages rates; (b) a rise in unemployment. How might the design of the benefit system affect the answer?
Countries differ considerably in terms of the number of hours people work.
Despite the criticisms levelled at Greece, with some claiming that Greek workers are ‘lazy’, according to 2010 figures, the average worker in Greece worked 2109 hours per year – more than in any other European country. The average German worker worked 1419 hours and the average Dutch worker only 1377.
Internationally, amongst developed countries, Korea has the highest number of working hours per worker at 2193 per year. In the USA, the figure is 1778 hours and in the UK it’s 1647. (Click on chart below for a larger version.)
But working long hours does not mean working more productively. Generally the countries in which people work longer hours have lower output per hour.
The following podcast and articles look at the relationship between hours worked and productivity and consider which way the causality lies. They also look at related issues such as the proportion of part-time working and the length of annual paid holidays.
Would cutting working hours, either through legislation or by agreement with companies, allow more people to be employed? Explain why it might be more complicated than this.
What is the relationship between labour productivity per hour and the average number of hours worked per worker? Do people work longer hours because they are less productive or are they less productive because they work longer hours?
Why factors determine labour productivity?
Why may average hours worked be deceptive in terms of assessing how hard people are working?
Why do US workers work more hours per year on average than UK workers?
How much value do you place on that wonderful long weekend that a Bank holiday brings? The extra lie in; the ensuing 4 day week; the time you spend with your family. Some would say it’s invaluable – you can’t put a price on it. But those some people would not be economists! Each Bank holiday is worth about £2bn – at least that’s how much it costs the economy.
According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, if the UK got rid of its Bank holidays, GDP would increase by approximately £18bn.
Some businesses will do well out the Bank holidays, but according to the research, the sectors of the economy that suffer are far greater, causing losses in productivity and hence in GDP. Indeed, the extra Bank Holiday we had last year for the Royal Wedding is thought to have been part of the cause for the slow down in growth to 0.1% during the second quarter of 2011.
Based on this data, there are unsurprisingly concerns that the extra Bank holiday this year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee could also cost the economy. Not particularly good news, considering how vulnerable the economy currently is. Although the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will undoubtedly generate huge amounts of spending, it is thought that this will be more than offset by the sectors that are expected to lose out because of the loss in working hours and hence productivity.
Given the cost of Bank holidays to the economy, the CEBR says that they should be spread more evenly throughout the year. Is this the solution &ndash if one is needed – or should they be abolished altogether! The following articles consider the issue.