Becker Friedman Institute

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Labor Market Search With Imperfect Information and Learning

We investigate the role of information frictions in the US labor market using a new nationally representative panel dataset on individuals’ labor market expectations and real- izations. We find that expectations about future job offers are, on average, highly predictive of actual outcomes. Despite their predictive power, however, deviations of ex post realizations from ex ante expectations are often sizable. The panel aspect of the data allows us to study how individuals update their labor market expectations in response to such shocks. We find a strong response: an individual who receives a job offer one dollar above her expectation subsequently adjusts her expectations upward by $0.47. The updating patterns we document are, on the whole, inconsistent with Bayesian updating. We embed the empirical evidence on expectations and learning into a model of search on- and off- the job with learning, and show that it is far better able to fit the data on reservation wages relative to a model that assumes complete information. The estimated model indicates that workers would have lower employment transition responses to changes in the value of unemployment through higher unemployment benefits than in a complete information model, suggesting that assuming workers have complete information can bias estimates of the predictions of government interventions. We use the framework to gauge the welfare costs of information frictions which arise because individuals make uninformed job acceptance decisions and find that the costs due to information frictions are sizable, but are largely mitigated by the presence of learning.

John J. Conlon, Harvard University
Laura Pilossoph, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Matthew Wiswall, Arizona State University
Basit Zafar, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Publication Date: 
September, 2018
HCEO Working Groups: 
Publication Status: 
Document Number: 
File Description: 
First version, August, 2018