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The Great Increase in Relative Volatility of Real Wages in the United States

By Julien Champagne and André Kurmann

Abstract

This paper documents that over the past 25 years, aggregate hourly real wages in the United States have become substantially more volatile relative to output. We use micro-data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to show that this increase in relative volatility is predominantly due to increases in the relative volatility of hourly wages across different groups of workers. Compositional changes, by contrast, account for at most 12% of the increase in relative wage volatility. Using a Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) model, we show that the observed increase in relative wage volatility is unlikely to come from changes outside of the labor market (e.g. smaller exogenous shocks or more aggressive monetary policy). By contrast, increased flexibility in wage setting is capable of accounting for a large fraction of the observed increase in relative wage volatility. At the same time, increased wage flexibility generates a substantial decrease in the magnitude of business cycle fluctuations, which suggests a promising new explanation for the Great Moderation.Wage volatility, business cycles, great moderation, current population survey, dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models

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