natural rate of unemployment

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Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment

Also called NAIRU. The unemployment rate in an economy below which inflation will begin to rise. The idea behind NAIRU states that a certain unemployment rate is built in to an economy. If unemployment falls too far, the economy will begin to overheat and inflation will rise. This analysis is highly controversial; some economists hold full employment is possible without these negative side effects. Milton Friedman was a major proponent of the NAIRU idea. See also: Phillips curve.
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Fig. 134 Natural rate of unemployment. Phillips curve depicting the natural rate of unemployment.

natural rate of unemployment

the underlying rate of UNEMPLOYMENT below which it is not possible to reduce unemployment further without increasing the rate of INFLATION. The term ‘natural rate of unemployment’ is often used synonymously with the NON-ACCELERATING INFLATION RATE OF UNEMPLOYMENT (NAIRU).

The natural rate of unemployment can be depicted by reference to the PHILLIPS CURVE.

In Fig. 134, the rate of unemployment is shown on the horizontal axis and the rate of inflation is shown on the vertical axis, with the Phillips curve showing the ‘trade-off between unemployment and inflation. Point X, where the Phillips curve intersects the horizontal axis, depicts the natural rate of unemployment. If unemployment is pushed below the natural rate of unemployment (currently estimated at around 5% in the UK), then inflation starts to accelerate. The natural rate of unemployment includes FRICTIONAL UNEMPLOYMENT, STRUCTURAL UNEMPLOYMENT and, in particular, ‘voluntary’ unemployment (people who are out of work because they are not prepared to take work at the ‘going’ wage rate). See main UNEMPLOYMENT entry for further discussion.

However, the term ‘natural’ rate of unemployment is somewhat a misnomer insofar as it implies that it is ‘immutable’. This is far from the case, as the natural rate of unemployment can vary between countries and also within countries over time. Structural unemployment, for example, can be reduced by training schemes that improve occupational mobility while ‘voluntary’ unemployment can be reduced by lowering the ‘cushion’ of social security benefits and improving incentives to work (e.g. the Working Families’ Tax Credit Scheme). See EXPECTATIONS-ADJUSTED/AUGMENTED PHILLIPS CURVE.

Collins Dictionary of Economics, 4th ed. © C. Pass, B. Lowes, L. Davies 2005
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