Suppose, for example, that it takes four weeks for the economy to reallocate the jobs in the third scenario. Assuming the workweek has 5 working days, the economy produces 0 output instead of 14 units of output for a total of 20 days. The total amount of lost output is 20 × 14 = 280. Once the workers have found their new jobs, the economy produces 10 more units per week than previously. After 28 weeks, this extra output equals the 280 lost units. If we could just add together output this month and output next month, we could conclude that this investment pays off for the economy after 28 weeks. Because output produced in the future is worth less than output today, it will actually take a bit longer than 28 weeks for the investment to be worthwhile. Provided that changes to the relative productivity of workers do not occur too frequently, the costs of adjusting the assignment of workers to jobs (the spells of unemployment) will be more than offset by the extra output obtained by putting workers into the right jobs. This is the gain from a fluid labor market, even though the process entails spells of unemployment. Youth Unemployment We observed earlier that the unemployment rate for young workers is higher than for older workers, in both France and the United States. We can understand why by thinking about the search and matching process. When lawyers, doctors, professors, and other professionals change jobs, they typically do so with little or no intervening unemployment. Search and matching is easy because they have visible records, meaning their productivity at a particular job is relatively easy to figure out. In general, the longer someone has been in the workforce, the more information is available to potential new employers. Also, experienced workers have a good understanding of the kinds of job that they like. Just the opposite is more likely in the labor market for young workers. Firms know relatively little about the young workers they hire. Likewise, young workers, with little employment experience, are likely to be very uncertain about whether or not they will like a new job. The result, at least in the United States, is a lot of turnover for young workers. Young workers sample different jobs in the labor market until they find one suited to their tastes and talents. They take advantage of the fluid nature of the US labor market to search for a good match. The gain is a better fit once they find a job they like. The cost is occasional spells of unemployment. In Europe, search and matching is much harder. Some young workers are even effectively guaranteed jobs for life by the government from the moment they finish college. By contrast, young workers without jobs find it difficult to obtain employment. Given the lack of fluidity in European labor markets, it is surprising neither that more young workers are unemployed, nor that they stay unemployed for longer periods of time. The Natural Rate of Unemployment We expect there to be some frictional unemployment, even in a well-functioning economy. We also know that there is cyclical employment associated with the ups and downs of the business cycle. When cyclical unemployment is zero, we say that the economy is operating at full employment. The natural rate of unemployment is defined as the amount of unemployment we expect in an economy that is operating at full employment—that is, it is the level of unemployment that we expect once we have removed cyclical considerations. The natural rate of unemployment can seem like an odd concept because it says that it is normal to have unemployment even when the economy is booming. But it makes sense because all economies experience some frictional unemployment as a result of the ongoing process of matching workers with jobs. Government policies that affect the flows in and out of employment lead to changes in the natural rate of unemployment.
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