Sunday, January 25, 2015

Understanding the drop in the labor force

Just ran across two items from Marginal Revolution dealing with the drop in the labor force participation rate.  Stanford econ prof Robert Hall has taken a careful look at personal and household factors and has found that most of the drop has taken place among teens and young adults.  More intriguing is the finding that the drop is greater among households in the upper half of the income distribution than the lower half, casting doubt on the theory that more generous income maintenance programs (food stamps and unemployment insurance would be the most likely culprits) are driving the shrinkage of the labor force.

A recent article in BloombergBusinessweek reaches a simular conclusion.  Young people in high income households are staying in school longer and more of them are not working.  The article also notes the growing share of the labor force claiming disability benefits; these individuals are unlikely to return to work even if the unemployment rate dips below 5 percent.

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