Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 04:47:59 AM EST
Bumped by Jerome. Good conversation ongoing
One of the key complaints levelled against the European social and economic model by corporate capitalists is that it causes high unemployment. The examples chosen are generally France and Germany who are compared against the US.
Before we concede that EU unemployment is substantially higher than in the US we need to examine the numbers cited. Often the official national numbers are used despite the fact that they differ fundamentally on what they measure and how they measure it. Reporting the German rate as 12% and the US rate as 5.1% is lazy, clueless and dishonest work. The official German rate includes people working less than 15 hours a week but who want a full-time job as unemployed while the headline US figures count anyone who works for even one hour a week as employed.
I'm going to mostly use the OECD numbers, which are based on internationally agreed labour standard surveys. Eurostat, who are responsible for co-ordinating the EU surveys, define unemployment as
Unemployed persons are all persons who were
not employed during the reference week, had actively
sought work during the past four weeks and were ready
to begin working immediately or within two weeks.
The first point to make is that the EU-15 rate from the September 2005 is 8.0% vs. a US rate of 5.1%, which is a rather smaller difference than the comparison normally chosen.
The normal comparison listed is
which appears to prove that the US has a much lower unemployment rate than France or Germany. How comparable are these numbers?
A 2000 paper from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics examined this and noted the following systematic differences between the way the US and other countries implemented the ILO standards for the labour force surveys:
- Passive job seekers were included in EU figures and not in US figures. Passive job seekers have looked in the newspaper for jobs but not taken any other action to find a job.
- People waiting to start a job are included in the EU, but not included in the US.
- The period of availability differs: in the US you only count as unemployed if you are available to work within one week. The EU use a two-week window.
Sorrentino concluded that, based on the limited information available, correcting for these differences would have made about a 0.5% difference to many EU figures, especially the French and German numbers. I can find no information on how current figures would be affected.
Two obvious structural issues affect the comparability of the numbers:
- The US has 0.8% of it's population (not labour force) under arms, while in Germany and France only 0.3% of population serve in the military. The OECD figures are for civilian employment only, so that's 0.5% extra of the population removed from the labour force.
- The US has 0.7% of the population in jail compared to 0.1% in the European countries. I think it is fair to speculate that most of that 0.6% extra jail population would show up in the unemployment figures.
We could hypothesise that these two factors might add a further 0.75% to the corrected US unemployment number, raising it to around 6.5%-7%.
A further complication, and probably both the most profound and most difficult to correct for, is the treatment of "marginally attached workers":
persons who currently are neither working nor looking
for work but indicate that they want and are available for a
job and have looked for work recently.
I believe that the welfare systems in the EU tend to keep people in the official system so that I would expect the numbers of marginally attached workers to be lower 1 which could raise the unemployment figure substantially.
The OECD figures do not include these people and it seems very hard to correct for. The best I can do is compare German official figures, of 11.5% to the US U-6 figure (which includes the marginally attached and those working part-time for economic reasons) of 10%, which if you adjust as suggested above looks awfully similar. This is, of course, a comparison without any rigourous basis.
As an aside, and has often been said around these parts, the German unemployment figure includes a 20% unemployment rate in ex-East Germany's and a 7.5% rate in the old West. Germany is still paying the price for re-unification.
Also as an aside, a brief issued earlier in the year by Katharine Bradbury, Senior Economist and Policy Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, caused rather a stir when she suggested that the US unemployment rate could be understated by 1% to 3% on the basis that labour force participation rates had not recovered in the way that they had in previous economic recoveries.
I don't recall seeing a good refutation of this brief, but I may have missed it.
In any case, even the OECD standardised unemployment figures are not directly comparable, but they do show that while unemployment in the US is probably somewhat lower than in "Old Europe" the differences are not as massive as often suggested and certainly don't support the argument that the European social model is much worse than the US model on employment.