Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where Have All the Workers Gone?

1/16/15 - Unemployment rates have been found to be decreasing throughout the country. The labor force participation rate, on the other hand, which shows the number of people working or not working, rather than just those classified as “unemployed,” has also been shown to be on a downward slope. So, what causes the seeming paradox between these two measurements. According to Michael Hiltzik, in his Los Angeles Times article, this discrepancy is due to a significant number of “missing” workers: those workers who are not working, and at the same time are not considered “unemployed.” Where have these so-called “missing workers” really gone?

How is it possible for both participation rates and unemployment rates to go down? Some economists believe that this phenomenon is due to a lack of effectiveness in current governmental policies meant to create and fill necessary jobs. Such economists theorize that the extreme difficulty many people are having in finding work has led them to stop searching altogether, to drop out of the labor force completely. Hiltzik, on the other hand, disagrees with this conclusion, preferring an alternative explanation.

Hiltzik presents sources in the article that seem to show that up to three-quarters of the perceived decline in participation rate is actually due to such factors as the retirement of baby boomers and the enrollment of workers in universities and other institutions of higher learning, both of which have little to do with the state of the economy. Over the past few decades, participation rates have been steadily declining, for both men and women. Statistics show that as the economy improves, the participation rate should improve as well.

Whatever the reason for the current employment trends, it is evident that the economy needs to get better. Hiltzik concludes his article as such: while the participation rate is declining, there is still room for it to recover. Workers may be out of the labor force due to the Great Recession, or lowering wages, or a variety of other possible reasons, but as the economy improves, workers should return.

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