Tag: Labor Force Participation

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Who is more arrogant and annoying, Donald Trump or Paul Krugman? A Hobbesian choice to be sure, but I’d say Krugman every time. Of course, the media would uniformly disagree, as can be seen in the reaction to Trump’s economic ideas, The bizarre optimism in Donald Trump’s theory of the economy.  Like Krugman, much of what Trump talks […]

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Does Lower Labor Force Participation Mean the 5% US Unemployment Rate Is a Phony Number?


120915jobsThe current 5 percent unemployment rate is half its worst level of the Great Recession. But the jobless rate would be 10.1 percent if the labor force participation rate — which feeds into the unemployment rate — were back at pre-recession levels. So what is the “real” unemployment rate? The other day, I quoted a new Goldman Sachs study on the LFPR issue:

What about the 3.6pp decline in the labor force participation rate since 2007? While it’s true that the unemployment rate would be much higher if participation had remained stable, we now believe most of the decline since that time should be considered structural. By far the largest contribution to the decline in participation has been an increase in retirees—mostly a natural consequence of the aging of the workforce. Rising disability rates—a trend mostly driven by demographics—and a tendency for young people to remain in school have also played a role.The remaining cyclical component is a relatively modest share of the labor force, and broadly captured by the U6 unemployment rate, in our view.

And n0w the San Francisco Fed offers a similar perspective:

U3 Unicorns Puking Rainbow Recoveries



Do you ever feel a bit of a disconnect between the continuous media reports that the economy is doing awesome (here, here, and here to name a few) and how much it feels like the economy, to use a technical term, sucks outside of the stock market? Well, you’re not alone, and a couple of basic charts will validate your feelings. This is not data produced in the depths of my basement while I replace the tinfoil around my head. These are government-reported numbers on the health of the labor market. I call your attention to the time period during which the media was harping on the theme of, “It’s the economy, stupid!” and our recent “awesome recovery.”

This first chart shows the labor force participation rate, measuring the percentage of adults who are working. I’m using this instead of the commonly reported – and improving – U3 unemployment rate, because U3 has about as much correlation with the health of the labor market as the ratio of pixies to hobgoblins in Neverland. The reason I’m so down on U3 is that it behaves as if the underemployed are fully employed. (Settle down, James Pethokoukis, I mean the objectively underemployed, as in, part-time workers who want or need to work full time.)