Time to face reality in measuring unemployment

workforce.jpgWhich is to say it's time to recognize that the economic world has changed mightily since before the recession and will never, ever go back to the way it was. Prior to the downturn, 63 out of 100 Americans had jobs. Today, only 59 do. That's not great, of course, but it's not surprising either. Basically, jobs are being added, but not enough to cover the people already out of work and the people who are entering the workforce. Macroeconomic Advisers predicts that the share of Americans in the workforce is unlikely to increase, which means, in a nutshell, today's lukewarm jobs report is a sign of the times - get used to it. From the NYT:

It's not clear how much we can realistically aspire to raise the employment rate. Part of the trend is driven by demographics. Americans are getting older, and retirees make up a growing share of the adult population. Some of the damage caused by the recession may also be irreversible. The share of Americans on disability has soared, in part because the program is serving as a safety net for people who might have find work in better times. But once on disability, people almost never return to work.

NPR had a good piece this morning that broke down the reasons why so many people are leaving the labor force.

1. They're retiring. The baby boomers are hitting retirement age. Even if the job market were in good shape, that alone would be enough to drive up the share of adults who aren't looking for work.

2. They're going to college. College enrollment is up -- and many students are having a hard time finding part-time work. A 20-year-old student named Jeannett Llave told me the last job she applied for was working at the American Girl doll store in New York. "I thought I was perfectly fine and capable of taking care of little girls and, like, just giving them a doll," she told me. She didn't get the job -- and she decided to give up looking and focus on her anatomy class. Because it's been more than a month since Llave looked for a job, she's not counted as part of the labor force.

3. They're staying home with the kids. In the 1970s and '80s, the labor force participation rate rose sharply, as it became more common for mothers to work. Some of the recent decline has come as parents in dual-income households decide that the cost of day care outweighs the benefits of work. I talked to one stay-at-home dad who worked in a newsprint factory in Columbia, Mo., making $9 an hour. Now, his wife works as a doctor and he stays home with his 7-year-old daughter.

4. They just can't find work. "I think at last count I had sent out like 185 resumes or responded to 185 actual openings," Terri Meier, who used to work in human resources at Sony, told me. "And of that, I've gotten two opportunities where I actually went to a live interview."

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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