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In this chapter we have extended our understanding of the operation of perfectly competitive markets by looking at the market for labor. We found that the common sense embodied in the marginal decision rule is alive and well. A firm should hire additional labor up to the point at which the marginal benefit of doing so equals the marginal cost.
The demand curve for labor is given by the downward-sloping portion of the marginal revenue product (MRP) curve of labor. A profit-maximizing firm will hire labor up to the point at which its marginal revenue product equals its marginal factor cost. The demand for labor shifts whenever there is a change in (1) related factors of production, including investment in human capital; (2) technology; (3) product demand; and (4) the number of firms.
The quantity of labor supplied is closely linked to the demand for leisure. As more hours are worked, income goes up, but the marginal cost of work, measured in terms of forgone leisure, also increases. We saw that the substitution effect of a wage increase always increases the quantity of labor supplied. But the income effect of a wage increase reduces the quantity of labor supplied. It is possible that, above some wage, the income effect more than offsets the substitution effect. At or above that wage, an individual’s supply curve for labor is backward bending. Supply curves for labor in individual markets, however, are likely to be upward sloping.
Because competitive labor markets generate wages equal to marginal revenue product, workers who add little to the value of a firm’s output will receive low wages. The public sector can institute a minimum wage, seek to improve these workers’ human capital, or subsidize their wages.
Explain how each of the following events would affect wages in a particular labor market:
How do you think a wage increase would affect the quantity of labor supplied by each of the following speakers?
Felicia Álvarez, a bakery manager, faces the total product curve shown, which gives the relationship between the number of bakers she hires each day and the number of loaves of bread she produces, assuming all other factors of production are given.
|Number of bakers per day
|Loaves of bread per day
Assume that bakers in the area receive a wage of $100 per day and that the price of bread is $1.00 per loaf.
Suppose that wooden boxes are produced under conditions of perfect competition and that the price of a box is $10. The demand and supply curves for the workers who make these boxes are given in the table.
|Wage per day
Plot the demand and supply curves for labor, and determine the equilibrium wage for box makers.
Assume that the market for nurses is perfectly competitive, and that the initial equilibrium wage for registered nurses is $30 per hour. Illustrate graphically how each of the following events will affect the demand or supply for nurses. State the impact on wages and on the number of nurses employed (in terms of the direction of the changes that will occur).
Plot the supply curves for labor implied by each of the following statements. In this problem, actual numbers are not important; rather you should think about the shape of the curve.
At an hourly wage of $10 per hour, Marcia Fanning is willing to work 36 hours per week. Between $30 and $40 per hour, she is willing to work 40 hours per week. At $50 per hour, she is willing to work 35 hours per week.
Jake Goldstone is working 30 hours per week. His marginal utility of income is 2, his marginal utility of leisure is 60, and his hourly wage is $20. Assume throughout this problem that the income effect is zero.
The table below describes the perfectly competitive market for dishwashers.
|Wage per day
Quantity demanded per day
Quantity supplied per day