This article examines the conditions under which governments increase spending on active labor market policies (ALMPs), as the European Union and the organization of economic co-operation and development recommend. Given that ALMPs are usually expensive and unlikely to win a government many votes, this study hypothesizes that an improving socio-economic situation is a necessary condition for increased spending. On the basis of the data of 53 governments from 18 established democracies between 1985 and 2003, the fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis shows that there are different combinations of conditions, or routes, toward activation and that an improving socio-economic situation is needed for each of them. Specifically, the analysis reveals that governments activate under decreasing unemployment combined with (1) trade openness, or (2) the absence of corporatism in the case of leftist governments, or (3) the presence of corporatism in the case of rightist governments. These findings advance our understanding of the politics of labor market reform.
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