Recessions and the Cost of Job Loss

72 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2011  

Steven J. Davis

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Till von Wachter

Columbia Business School - Economics Department; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: December 2011

Abstract

We develop new evidence on the cumulative earnings losses associated with job displacement, drawing on longitudinal Social Security records for U.S. workers from 1974 to 2008. In present value terms, men lose an average of 1.4 years of pre-displacement earnings if displaced in mass-layoff events that occur when the national unemployment rate is below 6 percent. They lose a staggering 2.8 years of pre-displacement earnings if displaced when the unemployment rate exceeds 8 percent. These results reflect discounting at a 5% annual rate over 20 years after displacement. We also document large cyclical movements in the incidence of job loss and job displacement and present evidence on how worker anxieties about job loss, wage cuts and job opportunities respond to contemporaneous economic conditions. Finally, we confront leading models of unemployment fluctuations with evidence on the present value earnings losses associated with job displacement. The model of Mortensen and Pissarides (1994) extended to include search on the job generates present value losses only one-fourth as large as observed losses. Moreover, present value losses in the model vary little with aggregate conditions at the time of displacement, unlike the pattern in the data.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Steven J. and von Wachter, Till, Recessions and the Cost of Job Loss (December 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17638. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1967372

Steven J. Davis

University of Chicago ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-7312 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Till Von Wachter

Columbia Business School - Economics Department ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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