Skip to main content

July/August 1999, 
Vol. 81, No. 4
Posted 1999-07-01

Can Market-Clearing Models Explain U.S. Labor Market Fluctuations?

by Victor E. Li

Throughout the past two decades, market-clearing models of the business cycle have been praised for their ability to explain key empirical features of the post-war U.S. business cycle. Real business cycle (RBC) theory shows that in a model grounded in microeconomic foundations, disturbances to national productivity can explain how aggregate variables such as GDP, consumption, and investment behave over time, relative to each other. One of the primary weaknesses of the standard RBC model, however, is its inability to account for some important aspects of U.S. labor market fluctuations. The author summarizes important U.S. business cycle facts and examines how and why these market-clearing models have so much difficulty explaining the manner in which these facts pertain to the labor market. The author then develops a simple market-clearing framework that demonstrates how a more realistic treatment of unemployment and incomplete risk-sharing may provide an alternative approach to better account for these labor market facts. In particular, the author looks at the situation where the risk of being unemployed cannot be completely shared across all individuals when there are unexpected aggregate economic shocks.