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Collapsing Labor Force Participation: A Secular Trend

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of True Economics. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.

For those of you following this blog this would be a familiar sight: I have been worrying about the underlying structure of the U.S. labor markets for some time now. The ongoing recovery appears to be relatively robust in terms of headline figures, e.g. GDP growth rates and declining continued unemployment claims. But in reality, it has been nothing but the return to trends that persisted before the pandemic – trends that are extremely worrying.

I covered the fact that longer term unemployment has now gone through the roof: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2021/04/14421-share-of-those-in-unemployment-27.html. And beyond this, there is a bigger problem of historically low levels of labor force participation. We are witnessing a massive pull-away within the skills distribution in the U.S. economy: there are shortages of skilled labor, including in manufacturing, and there is massive outflow of people from the labor markets in lower skills groups.

 

Just look at the absolute disaster of the ‘recovery’ when it comes to people who have left the workforce alltogether:

And consider the gender mix in this:

1. Women labor force participation is down:

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2. Men participation has collapsed:

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The above appears to show more benign trend in female labor force participation trend than in male, and… here comes the kicker: women labor force participation currently sits around the levels comparable to 1987; men – at around … well… never.

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The above table puts matters into perspective: the gap between the pandemic period and prior high participation period is almost 5 times larger for men than for women. But… the gap between women and men participation rates in the pandemic period and pre-pandemic period is much smaller: at roughly 48% higher for men than for women. For the latest data point (March 2021) the latter gap is roughly 80%. In other words, the dynamics in terms of labor force participation for women are becoming much less benign, relative to men. than they were during the pre-pandemic period.
To put this into a different perspective: secular pre-pandemic trend for men were woeful. They were less so for women. But pandemic is accelerating longer term pressures on both men and women in pushing them out of the labor force.

If you think this is a ‘robust’ recovery, you really need to think a bit harder: we are having a secular stagnation in the female labor force and we are having a long term depression in the male labor force. And these trends are not subject to demographics of aging.

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