How tight is the labor market? The unemployment rate is down substantially from its October 2009 peak, but two-thirds of the decline is due to people dropping out of the labor force. In addition, an unusually large share of the unemployed has been out of work for twenty-seven weeks or more—the long-duration unemployed. These statistics suggest that there remains a great deal of slack in U.S. labor markets, which should be putting downward pressure on labor compensation. Instead, compensation growth has moved modestly higher since 2009. A potential explanation is that the long-duration unemployed exert less influence on wages than the short-duration unemployed, a hypothesis we examine here. While preliminary, our findings provide some support for this hypothesis and show that models taking into account unemployment duration produce more accurate forecasts of compensation growth.
The hypothesis that individuals who are unemployed for long durations have less impact on the behavior of wages than the recently unemployed is not new.
We compare forecasts of compensation growth using two alternative measures of the unemployment gap—one based on the total unemployment rate and another based on the short-duration unemployment rate. The total unemployment gap measure is the difference, measured in percentage points, between the total unemployment rate and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of NAIRU. The short-duration unemployment gap is constructed as the difference between the short-duration unemployment rate and our estimate of the short-duration NAIRU. The latter is the CBO estimate of NAIRU less the average of the long-duration unemployment rate calculated over the 1997-2007 period.
While the compensation growth series displays some volatility and both models missed the initial slowing and subsequent rebound in the series, the forecast using the short-duration unemployment gap does a better job tracking the subsequent movements in compensation growth and is about 10 percent more accurate than the forecast that ignores the duration of unemployment. The graph also illustrates that the forecast using the total unemployment gap have consistently underpredicted compensation growth, a feature shared by price-inflation Phillips curve models. Although they are not shown, we obtain similar results if we start the out-of-sample forecasts in 2004:Q4.
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