Do Employment Protections Reduce Productivity? Evidence from U.S. States
Executive Summary — Business leaders and policymakers often claim labor market rigidities reduce productivity and competitiveness by altering production choices from their unconstrained best. These theories are tested using the adoption of employment protection regulations by U.S. state courts over the last three decades. Consistent evidence is found following the introduction of the employment regulations that 1) firm production choices are altered, 2) firm employment turnover declines, and 3) firm productivity declines. Entrepreneurship rates also decline in the states after the court decisions. The interpretation of the results, however, is somewhat clouded by very large employment growth that follows the regulations too. Key concepts include:
- Employment protection regulations lead to reductions in firm employment changes.
- These regulations are also associated with lower firm productivity and entry rates, consistent with the regulations distorting production choices.
- These results require further verification as the employment growth following the regulations appears implausibly large.
Theory predicts that mandated employment protections may reduce productivity by distorting production choices. Firms facing (non-Coasean) worker dismissal costs will curtail hiring below efficient levels and retain unproductive workers, both of which should affect productivity. These theoretical predictions have rarely been tested. We use the adoption of wrongful-discharge protections by U.S. state courts over the last three decades to evaluate the link between dismissal costs and productivity. Drawing on establishment-level data from the Annual Survey of Manufacturers and the Longitudinal Business Database, our estimates suggest that wrongful-discharge protections reduce employment flows and firm entry rates. Moreover, analysis of plant-level data provides evidence of capital deepening and a decline in total factor productivity following the introduction of wrongful-discharge protections. This last result is potentially quite important, suggesting that mandated employment protections reduce productive efficiency as theory would suggest. However, our analysis also presents some puzzles including, most significantly, evidence of strong employment growth following adoption of dismissal protections. In light of these puzzles, we read our findings as suggestive but tentative.
- Full Working Paper Text
- Working Paper Publication Date: January 2007
- HBS Working Paper Number: 07-048