Bank Credit and Unemployment

55 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2015

See all articles by Jason Donaldson

Jason Donaldson

Washington University in St. Louis

Giorgia Piacentino

Columbia University

Anjan V. Thakor

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: August 25, 2015


The worst employment slumps tend to follow the largest expansions of household debt. In this paper, we theoretically investigate an amplification mechanism by which debt on household balance sheets distorts labor market search behavior, leading to deeper employment slumps. Using a competitive search model, we find that levered households protected by limited liability engage in risk-shifting by searching for jobs with high wages but low employment probabilities. In general equilibrium, firms respond to this household preference distortion and post high wages but few vacancies. This vacancy-posting effect implies that high household debt leads to high unemployment, a result that casts light on why labor market recoveries are sluggish after financial crises. The equilibrium level of household debt is inefficiently high due to a household-debt externality — banks fail to internalize the effect that household leverage has on employment via the vacancy-posting effect. We analyze the role that a financial regulator can play in mitigating this externality. We find that loan-to-value caps for households and capital requirements for banks can elevate employment and improve efficiency, providing an alternative to monetary policy for labor market intervention.

Suggested Citation

Donaldson, Jason and Piacentino, Giorgia and Thakor, Anjan V., Bank Credit and Unemployment (August 25, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Jason Donaldson

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1208
Saint Louis, MO MO 63130-4899
United States

Giorgia Piacentino (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

New York

Anjan V. Thakor

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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