Labor economics is the study of the labor force as an element in the process of production. However, labor is a unique component of production:
“Labor is a very special case, and there are many ways in which it should not be treated just like any other commodity, for the very simple reason that the whole purpose of the economy is to promote the welfare of men and women and not that of bricks and mortar”. (Nobel laureate, James Meade)
The labor force comprises all those who (can) work (for gain) within the labor market, whether as employees, employers, or as self-employed, but also the unemployed, who are seeking work. Labor economics involves the study of all that affects these individuals and households before, during, and after their working lives, for example, minimum wage, childcare, education, pay and incentives, fertility, discrimination, their non-work time, and pension reforms.
Labor economics as a field tries to understand and explain dynamics and functioning of labor market, both at theoretical and empirical levels. The field has a significant policy orientation, with a strong theoretical background. At times of crises, labor economics can also help us to understand, and provide solutions to, the problems caused by economic shocks such as recessions or global pandemics.