Tuesday, September 10, 2013

John Haltiwanger on Job Creation and Destruction

Jessie Romero has an "Interview" with John Haltiwanger published in Econ Focus, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (Second Quarter 2013, pp. 30-34). 

On the creation of the job creation and destruction data

"Steve Davis and I met back in the mid-1980s, and we had this idea that to understand how the labor market works, it would be critical to understand the ongoing process of what we called job creation and job destruction. In the mid-1980s, we got to know Dunne, Roberts, and Samuelson, who were using lower-frequency Census data to study the entry and exit of firms and firm dynamics. We asked them if they thought it was possible to get access to the data to look at higher frequencies, say monthly or quarterly. And they said, “Well, we don’t know, but why don’t you call these guys up?”
So Steve and I called up the Census Bureau. Robert McGuckin, the director of the Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies (CES) at the time, invited us to come give a seminar. We got two reactions. Bob McGuckin was incredibly enthusiastic. But some of the folks said, “You guys are nuts!” They kept saying that the data were not intended for this task, that we were pushing them in a way they weren’t meant to be pushed. Steve and I were cognizant of that, but we started working with the data and realized their potential, and that led to us developing these concepts of job creation and destruction and how to measure them.
Over the years, one of our most satisfying accomplishments was to convince the statistical agencies that this was important. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) now have regular programs where they are turning out the kind of statistics that we developed. Back in the 1980s, there were only a handful of people working with the firm-level data. We literally were in basement rooms without windows. Now the CES has 100 staff members and 15 research data centers spread across the country — and most of the staff work in rooms that have windows!"

Recruiting intensity in the Great Recession

"We were struck by the fact that there was a pattern in the job-filling rate that was not consistent with the standard search-and-matching model: Businesses that were very rapidly expanding filled their jobs much faster than other kinds of businesses. In the standard search-and-matching model, if you want to expand quickly, you just post more vacancies. We found that was true — businesses that were expanding rapidly did post more vacancies — but we also found that they filled them much more quickly. So what’s going on there? The model that we came up with is that firms don’t just post vacancies, they also spend time and resources on hiring people. So if you want to hire more people, you can raise the wage you offer, or you can
change the way that you screen workers — these are just two examples of the variety of margins that a firm can use. As shorthand, we’ve called these margins “recruiting intensity.” We also found that recruiting intensity dropped substantially in the Great Recession and has been slow to recover."

When policy tries to stop job destruction 

"I think the evidence is overwhelming that countries have tried to stifle the [job] destruction process and this has caused problems. I’m hardly a fan of job destruction per se, but making it difficult for firms to contract, through restricting shutdowns, bankruptcies, layoffs, etc., can have adverse consequences. The reason is that there’s so much heterogeneity in productivity across businesses. So if you stifle that destruction margin, you’re going to keep lots of low-productivity businesses in existence, and that could lead to a sluggish economy. I just don’t think we have any choice in a modern market economy but to allow for that reallocation to go on. Of course, what you want is an environment where not only is there a lot of job destruction, but also a lot of job creation, so that when workers lose their jobs they either immediately transit to another job or their unemployment duration is low. ...
I think lots of countries hear this advice from economists or from organizations like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, so they open up their markets, they open up to trade, they liberalize their labor and product and credit markets. And what happens is, job destruction goes up immediately, but job creation doesn’t. They realize that they’ve got a whole bunch of firms that can’t compete internationally, and they’re in trouble. ...  On the one hand, there is lots of evidence that countries that distort the destruction margin find themselves highly misallocated, with low productivity and low job growth. On the other hand, it’s difficult to just let things go without having well-functioning market institutions in place ..."

 A slowdown in new business formation

"We’ve always known that young businesses are the most volatile. They’re the ones experimenting, trying to figure out if they have what it takes to be the next Microsoft or Google or Starbucks. But now we’re seeing a decline in the entry rate and a pretty stark decline in the share of young businesses. ... But it’s also important to recognize that the decline in the share of young firms has occurred because the impact of entry is not just at the point of entry, it’s also over the next five or 10 years. A wave of entrants come in, and some of them grow very rapidly, and some of them fail. That dynamic has slowed down. Should we care? The evidence is we probably should, because we’ve gotten a lot of productivity growth and job
creation out of that dynamic. A cohort comes in, and amongst that group, a relatively small group of them takes off in terms of both jobs and productivity. So the concern is, have we become less entrepreneurial? If you’re not rolling the dice as often, you’re not going to get those big wins as often. ...  
We’ve been struck by how rare success is for young businesses. When you look at normal times, the  fraction of young small businesses that are growing rapidly is very small. But the high-growth firms are growing very rapidly and contribute substantially to overall job creation. If you look at young small businesses, or just young businesses period, the 90th percentile growth rate is incredibly high. Young businesses not only are volatile, but their growth rates also are tremendously skewed. It’s rare to have a young business take off, but those that do add lots of jobs and contribute a lot to productivity growth. We have found that startups together with high-growth firms, which are disproportionately young, account for roughly 70 percent of overall job creation in the United States.