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Job Security in America

Lessons from Germany

By Katherine G. Abraham and Susan N. Houseman

With the onset of the recession in 1990, job security has moved to the forefront of labor market concerns in the United States. During economic downturns, American employers rely heavily on layoffs to cut their work force, much more than do their counterparts in other industrialized nations. The hardships imposed by these layoffs have led many to question whether the U.S. workers can be offered more secure employment without burdening the companies that employ them. In this book, Katharine Abraham and Susan Houseman address this question by comparing labor adjustment practices in the United States, whether existing policies arguably encourage layoffs, with those in Germany, a county with much stronger job protection for workers. From their assessment of the German experience, the authors recommend new public policies that promote alternatives to layoffs and help reduce unemployment. Beginning with an overview of the labor markets in Germany and the United States, Abraham and Houseman emphasize the interaction of various labor market policies. Stronger job security in Germany has been accomplished by an unemployment insurance system that deters layoffs. In the U.S., the unemployment insurance system has encouraged layoffs while discouraging the use of work-sharing schemes. The authors examine the effects of job security on the efficiency and equity of labor market adjustment and review trends in U.S. policy. Finally, the authors recommend reforms of the U.S. unemployment insurance system that include stronger experience rating and an expansion of short-term compensation programs. They also point to the critical link between job security and the system of worker training in Germany, and advocate policies that would encourage more training by U.S. companies.

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