Workers displaced during the pandemic recession experienced better subsequent earnings and employment outcomes than workers displaced during previous recessions. A sharp recovery in aggregate labor market conditions after the pandemic recession accounts for these better outcomes. The industry and occupation composition of displaced workers, the prevalence of worker recalls, and the uptake of unemployment insurance benefits are unlikely explanations.
In this Commentary, we show that realized wage growth since 2015 has mostly been at a rate that would be expected given observed rates of inflation and labor productivity growth. Moreover, labor productivity growth has been in line with its potential over the same period. This picture of the post-recession recovery of wages is very different from the one we observed in an earlier analysis, when all we had were data up through the end of 2015. The reasons underlying the difference are large revisions in labor productivity data and upticks in the inflation rate and labor productivity growth since our last report.
We use advance layoff notices filed under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act as an indicator of current and imminent labor market conditions. We have constructed a database of establishment-level notices starting in 1990 by scraping state government websites, contacting state officials, and retrieving historical data. We find evidence that these notices, aggregated to the national level, lead other prominent labor market indicators, such as initial unemployment insurance claims, the change in the unemployment rate, and changes in private employment. The lead relationship seems strongest at one month with economically meaningful magnitudes. Most recently, WARN data suggest a slight increase in labor market slack.
In most developed countries, the share of output accruing to labor has declined over the last 20 years. However, the underlying reasons for the decrease may have differed in the United States and other developed countries. In this Commentary, we examine some of the explanations economists have proposed for the decline in the labor share and discuss how well these explanations account for the decline across developed countries.