Labor Market Outliers: Lessons from Portugal and Spain
Economic Policy, Vol. 15, Issue 31, October 2000
Posted: 18 Aug 2001
Spain has the highest unemployment rate (22.2%) of any European Union country, Portugal one of the lowest (7.3%). Superficially, these countries share many labor market features: the toughest job security rules in the OECD, an apparently similar architecture of wage bargaining, and comparable generosity of their unemployment insurance systems, at least since 1989. We address the puzzle by examining Portuguese and Spanish labor market institutions, in particular job security, unemployment benefits and the system of wage bargaining. We then conduct empirical analysis of Spanish and Portuguese unemployment outflows and wage distributions, using micro data. We find differences in unemployment benefits (non-existent in Portugal until 1985, and less generous nowadays), differences in wage flexibility (wage floors by category established by collective agreements are set at a lower relative level in Portugal), and, in practice, higher firing costs in Spain. A key explanation of the difference in Portuguese and Spanish unemployment rates is the wage adjustment process. Generous benefit levels may have been necessary for the path Spanish unions took, but this was not the sole explanation of different wage setting in Spain and Portugal.
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