Many believe that the unemployed are too 'lazy' or 'choosy', and that
unemployment rates could be lowered if the unemployed would be given more
'tough love'. Others counter that the unemployed are already treated too
harshly, and that they should rather receive more help and support.
For a long time, though, it was not easy to say exactly how strictly or
unemployed in a given country were really treated: how freely they could
choose between available jobs, how stringently their job-search efforts
were checked, and what penalties could be imposed if they would not comply
with their obligations. As a result, it was also not fully clear whether
countries with tough rules really do have lower unemployment rates — and
therefore whether putting the unemployed under pressure really is a good
way to reduce unemployment.
The Comparative Unemployment Benefit Conditions & Sanctions Dataset was created to solve
this problem. It provides systematic information and quantitative indicators
of the strictess of job-search and reporting requirements, the definition of
'suitable work', and unemployment benefit sanction rules in 21 economically
advanced democracies in Europe, North America and Australasia
between 1980 and 2012.
These data have already provided us with a clearer picture of how strict
rules for the unemployed are related to the performance of the labor market.
The two interactive graphs below show that countries that had in the period
between 1980 and 2012 required the unemployed to seek work more actively and
be available for a wider range of jobs tended to have lower unemployment
rates (graph on the left), but only slightly so. Also visible is that
countries that had in the same period imposed tougher benefit sanctions
on the unemployed tended to have higher unemployment rates (graph on the right).
More detailed analyses (published here and
here) revealed that putting greater pressure on the unemployed
to seek and accept work does indeed improve labor market performance; stricter
sanction rules, on the other hand, are a result of high unemployment:
Sanction rules tend to be made stricter after economic downturns. But the data
do not show that stricter sanction rules then have an effect on unemployment rates
(but they do have other
The creation of this dataset was made possible by a generous grant from
the Crafoord Foundation (Crafoordska
stiftelsen) as well as lots of help,
advice, and support from numerous contributors, country experts, and
interested scholars. The work on this dataset was conducted at the
Department of Political Science
at Lund University.