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Saturday, July 14, 2012

It was Mostly the Fall in Demand

Watching Amir Sufi give this paper arguing that a fall in aggregate demand rather than uncertainty, structurual change, and so forth is the major reason for the fall in employment (with the implication that replacing the lost demand can help the recovery):

What Explains High Unemployment? The Aggregate Demand Channel, by Atif Mian, University of California, Berkeley and NBER Amir Sufi University of Chicago Booth School of Business and NBER, November 2011: Abstract A drop in aggregate demand driven by shocks to household balance sheets is responsible for a large fraction of the decline in U.S. employment from 2007 to 2009. The aggregate demand channel for unemployment predicts that employment losses in the non-tradable sector are higher in high leverage U.S. counties that were most severely impacted by the balance sheet shock, while losses in the tradable sector are distributed uniformly across all counties. We find exactly this pattern from 2007 to 2009. Alternative hypotheses for job losses based on uncertainty shocks or structural unemployment related to construction do not explain our results. Using the relation between non-tradable sector job losses and demand shocks and assuming Cobb-Douglas preferences over tradable and non-tradable goods, we quantify the effect of aggregate demand channel on total employment. Our estimates suggest that the decline in aggregate demand driven by household balance sheet shocks accounts for almost 4 million of the lost jobs from 2007 to 2009, or 65% of the lost jobs in our data.

And, from the conclusion:

Alternative hypotheses such as business uncertainty and structural adjustment of the labor force related to construction are less consistent with the facts. The argument that businesses are holding back hiring because of regulatory or financial uncertainty is difficult to reconcile with the strong cross-sectional relation between household leverage levels, consumption, and employment in the non-tradable sector. This argument is also difficult to reconcile with survey evidence from small businesses and economists saying that lack of product demand has been the primary worry for businesses throughout the recession (Dennis (2010), Izzo (2011)).
There is certainly validity to the structural adjustment argument given large employment losses associated with the construction sector. However, we show that the leverage ratio of a county is a far more powerful predictor of total employment losses than either the growth in construction employment during the housing boom or the construction share of the labor force as of 2007. Further, using variation across the country in housing supply elasticity, we show that the aggregate demand hypothesis is distinct from the construction collapse view. Finally, structural adjustment theories based on construction do not explain why employment has declined sharply in industries producing tradable goods even in areas that experienced no housing boom.

    Posted by on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 09:09 AM in Academic Papers, Economics | Permalink  Comments (47)


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