While unemployment has been the common experience of OECD countries over the last three decades, there have also been significant differences in its severity and extent. These differences were characterised in the 1990s as a “trade‐off” between unemployment and wage inequality. According to this argument, the USA has achieved relatively low unemployment at the cost of widening inequality, while Europe has only been able to maintain equality at the cost of high unemployment. This introduction to selected papers from Australia’s 6th National Conference on Unemployment questions whether such a trade‐off is well grounded in the evidence, and suggests that it may instead be thought of as an ideological construct which has been deployed to make a case for US‐style labour market deregulation and “workfare” against the supposedly inflexible European social democratic model.
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