Higher Unemployment Benefits May Result in Higher Unemployment Rates

The size and structure of the “safety net” is a subject of hot debate. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom suggested that higher benefits would lead to slower labor market adjustments.
There may have been multiple causes for the high unemployment rate in the U.K. in the 1920s and 1930s. But it is highly plausible that higher unemployment benefits would have made the unemployed more selective in which jobs they would accept, and hence would have contributed to higher rates of unemployment and higher average duration of unemployment.

(p. 7B) The ultimate evidence . . . is from the 1920s, when the Labour Party came to power in the U.K. for the first time. As scholars Daniel K. Benjamin and Levis Kochin pointed out in a Journal of Political Economy paper, the moment was one in which “unemployment benefits were on a more generous scale relative to wages than ever before or since.”

The result was the mother of all jobless recoveries. For almost two decades, from 1921 to 1938, U.K. unemployment averaged 14 percent and never got below 9.5 percent.

For the full story, see:
Amity Shlaes. “Help can hurt job hunters.” Omaha World-Herald (Friday April 16, 2010): 7B.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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