Hartz-IV: Alternative Fakten

Es gibt zwei Arten von alternativen Fakten: solche, die frei erfunden sind, und solche, die wahr aber irreführend sind. Wie man letztere erzeugt,  zeigt der “Standard” lehrbuchmäßig in einem Artikel über die Hartz-IV-Reformen:

Die Reform wollte eigentlich erreichen, dass Langzeitarbeitslose zurück in den Arbeitsmarkt kommen. Daran ist sie gescheitert. In Deutschland gibt es deutlich mehr Menschen, die über Jahre keinen Job finden, als in Österreich. Und das, obwohl die Sozialleistungen hierzulande höher sind.

Wörtlich genommen stimmt die Aussage natürlich. Die absolute Anzahl der Langzeitarbeitslosen ist in Deutschland höher als hierzulande. Es gibt aber auch ungefähr zehnmal so viele Menschen in Deutschland wie in Österreich. Relevant ist das Verhältnis der Langzeitarbeitslosen zur Bevölkerung und wie sich dieses Verhältnis seit Einführung der Hartz-Reformen in den Jahren 2003-2005 entwickelt hat.

Hier der Anteil der Langzeitarbeitslosen an der Erwerbsbevölkerung in Deutschland im Vergleich zu Österreich während der vergangenen 14 Jahre (Quelle: Eurostat).

hartz4blog

Diese Grafik zeigt so ziemlich das Gegenteil von dem Bild, das der Standard-Artikel vermittelt. Die deutsche Langzeitarbeitslosigkeitsquote ist drastisch gesunken, während sie in Österreich leicht gestiegen ist. Im letzten Jahr lag sie in beiden Ländern ca. bei 1,8%.

Weiter unten im Artikel wird es noch ein bisschen “alternativer”:

Frage [sic!]: Aber immerhin ist die Arbeitslosigkeit stark gesunken.

Antwort: Das stimmt zwar, hat aber den meisten Fachleuten zufolge relativ wenig mit Hartz IV zu tun. Deutschland hat sich zur gleichen Zeit auch in vielen anderen Bereichen reformiert, die Löhne wurden schon Jahre zuvor kaum mehr erhöht und Unternehmen haben sich auf Märkte wie China spezialisiert, was sich als ein mehr als glücklicher Handgriff entpuppte. Außerdem sinkt die Zahl der Leute, die arbeiten wollen, weil es weniger Junge und Zuwanderer und mehr Alte gibt als in Österreich.

1. Wenn die Anzahl der Erwerbsfähigen bzw. -willigen sinkt, sinkt der Nenner der Arbeitslosenquote, wodurch die Quote ceteris paribus steigt, nicht sinkt. 2. Löhne und Exporte sind endogen. Die geringen Lohnzuwächse sind zum großen Teil eine Folge der Hartz-Reform. Schließlich hat sie dazu geführt, dass das Arbeitskräfteangebot gestiegen ist. Das geringe Lohnwachstum hat wiederum deutsche Exportgüter relativ billiger gemacht, was den Exportboom zumindest zum Teil erklärt. Die vom “Standard” angebotene Erklärung der gesunkenen Arbeitslosigkeit ist ungefähr so als würde man sagen: “Dass ein Kind im Laufe der Zeit größere Kleider braucht, liegt nicht daran, dass es älter wird, sondern größer.”

Diese Passage liefert Beispiele für eine weitere Subkategorie von “alternativen Fakten”, die dadurch entstehen, indem man einen Kausalzusammenhang zwischen zwei oder mehreren Fakten behauptet, der logisch inkohärent oder zumindest höchst fragwürdig ist.

Ich glaube, dass diese Art von irreführender Berichterstattung wesentlich schädlicher ist als die klassische Falschmeldung. Letztere wird nämlich für gewöhnlich rasch aufgedeckt und berichtigt. Die Art von “Fake News”, wie sie der “Standard”-Artikel enthält, bleibt in der Regel unwidersprochen und unberichtigt. Was hier nach seriöser, kompetenter Berichterstattung aussieht, ist letztendlich einfach nur Quatsch.

Austria and the Job Polarization: a comment on recent research results

Goos et al. (2014) state that the middle wage segment decreases in favour of the high and low wage segment. The corresponding hypothesis of job polarization refers to the assumption that technological change allows the automation of routine-based tasks, which may be strongly found in the middle wage segment and therein pursued tasks. The IHS apparently was not very happy with these results as well as with the way they were generated. Therefore, they provide their own ones, partly presented today by Gerlinde Titelbach. According to this presentation not only the middle wage segment shrank by about 6% in favour of an increase of the high wage rate segment, but the low wage segment also shrank by about 2%. Based on these results they refuse the hypothesis about job polarization for Austria.

I am very critical about this conclusion. First, even if their results are correct, the qualification of workers displaced in the middle wage segment probably does not suffice for a large part of jobs in the high wage segment. In the first place, therefore, a decrease of labour demand in the middle wage segment still intensifies the competition among vacancies in the low wage segment. Secondly, as they look at the workload in total hours, their results do not directly refer to the number of employees affected within the individual wage segments. Assuming that part-time agreements are more common in low wage rate segments, the latter may still have grown in terms of people. Thirdly, the investigation rather focusses on occupations as a whole instead of tasks, like the elaboration on routine-based technological change would let expect. Fourthly, their data reaches back to 1994, while the increase in the technological potential for the automation of tasks rather increases over time and may reach a new peak in the course of digitalization.

Finally, it is very likely that Austria does not face job polarization in the same intensity as other countries (cf. Peneder et al. 2016, Eichhorst/Buhlmann 2015) – due to, for example, the dual education system, the comparably successful preservation of industry as well as industrial safety. However, the results presented today do not suffice to reliably refuse the hypothesis as a whole. I am looking forward to the final publication.

 

References:

  • Eichhorst, Werner, Buhlmann, Florian (2015): Die Zukunft der Arbeit und der Wandel der Arbeitswelt. IZA Standpunkte Nr. 77, Bonn.
  • Goos, Maarten; Manning, Alan; Salomons, Anna (2014): Explaining Job Polarization: Routine-Biased Technological Change and Offshoring. The American Economic Review  104: 8.
  • Peneder, Michael; Bock-Schappelwein, Julia; Firgo, Matthias; Fritz,
    Oliver; Streicher, Gerhard (2016): Österreich im Wandel der Digitalisierung. WIFO, Wien.
  • Titelbach, Gerlinde (2016): Job Polarisierung in Österreich?, IHS, presentation at Workshop Arbeitsmarktökonomie, Wien.

The Myths and Realities of the European Migration Challenge

Recently the Graz Economics Club invited Martin Kahanec an associate professor from Central European University Budapest to give a talk on migration in Europe from a labour market perspective. On his website Martin Kahanec writes:

There is no price tag attached to my hand stretched out to refugees, people threatened by wars, and violent regimes. The humanitarian argument prevails over any cost-benefit analysis. But as a labor economist, I firmly believe it is my obligation to help us better understand the labor market impacts of immigration.

Following this motivation he starts his talk with quoting several common fears on immigration: Migrants are low skilled, take our jobs, lower wages, abuse the welfare state, shop for welfare and increase crime rates. As a scientist he does not want to blindly believe such myths but rather tries to test these hypotheses to find out whether there is any empirical evidence supporting or rejecting them. Put differently, are such kind of fears justified?

Comparing skills of immigrants in Europe and natives, he finds no substantial differences. Migrants, however, tend to fill existing labor and skill shortages and they do so more flexibly than natives. He cites several studies which empirically reject the hypothesis of increasing unemployment due to migration. In fact, there is even some evidence for job creation triggered by migration in the long run. For instance, a nurse migrating to Austria to take care for a disabled person might not take away a job but rather create new ones: The home caring she is doing might have previously been carried out by a family member which consequently was not able to fully participate in the labour market. By employing a nurse from abroad the nursing job is created and the family member may return to his or her own job. When it comes to fears about migrants abusing our welfare systems, Martin Kahanec actually comes to a very different conclusion: Migrants seem not to abuse welfare benefits but rather suffer from a lack of access which should possibly be changed as a matter of fairness. He shows that post-enlargment migration had positive effects on GDP, GDP per capita and employment rates. Given Europe’s aging population we should not fear migrants but rather actively attract them to our countries. He concludes by stating

The current migration crisis in Europe offers a potential for a triple win:

  • Provide humanitarian help to refugees
  • Revamp our migration, asylum, and integration policies
  • Benefit from the new hands and brains that can boost our labor markets

Otherwise a triple loss looms.

Monthly Proposal No.2: reduce daily and weekly working time for efficiency and flexibility

To face and fear an ongoing rise in unemployment is definitely not a new issue for European governments. The same can be said about economic crises. But still there is an unusual heat in the recent corresponding political debates. Why?

On the one hand, there is still no sign for a substantial as well as sustainable upswing. On the other hand, the discussion about the excessive public debt sensitized voters to the affordability of the welfare state. So on aggregate level, the scope for compensating public measures gets more and more restricted.

However, an awakening also takes place on an individual basis. Partly, this is because an increasing share of people becomes aware of the fact that persistent unemployment is not an unlikely individual fate anymore. Furthermore, the presence of these fates in the media or even the neighbourhood additionally sensitizes them to the fact that public transfers alone are just a short-term solution and do not compensate for all the sacrifices and dependencies of the unemployed or even poor anyway.

Facing this strain many of these people work extra hours and burn themselves out, while others get sick by being excluded. In this sense, labour markets incorporate another dimension of unequal distribution. It can be argued that this exploitation of overworked employees on the cost of the unemployed rest is inefficient too.

Taking a normative perspective, one just could say, that there are no winners among allworkers. While the unequal distribution of wages favours one worker against another, in the end the unequal distribution of working time seems to just reinforce the market power of firms. Taking a more positive perspective, one could add the argument that with additional working hours, productivity decreases. Reducing the former should therefore increase average as well as marginal output per employee. Also, less loaded workers are healthier and more likely to invest in their training and education.

After all, in the long run even the economy as a whole will benefit from a lower and stricter boundary for contracted hours. Splitting the portions and increase the availability of them should even favour the flexibility of their use, corresponding services and their consumption. Stop arguing with old fashioned assumptions about preferences and competition. Get serious, rethink welfare, consider sustainability and reduce daily and weekly working time!