We May Be Closer to Full Employment Than It Seemed. That’s Bad News.

The unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point since 2001, but it decreased for all the wrong reasons.

Comments: 200

  1. I'll ask the same question I ask every time news outlets start crowing about job creation numbers: how many of those newly created jobs pay a living wage? How many of those newly created jobs are full time? How many include health insurance benefits? How many were in the volatile service industry?

  2. And the other questions are how many of those jobs are permanent, offer opportunities for advancement and training, and will exist next year? And then we come to how many of these jobs do more than just keeping body and soul together because if they don't pay well enough other problems are created. It's not enough to have a job in today's world. It may have been 50 years ago. Today we can't even count on jobs lasting long enough for us to get experience worth noting on a resume.

    Perhaps, instead of counting the number of jobs created we should start counting the number of people/families that can pay their bills on time and put something aside to save for that inevitable layoff. I don't know what the answer is but I do know that America is failing its citizens when it refuses to acknowledge the reality of today's economy. Trickle down economics has not worked for us. Nor has our refusal to acknowledge the facts of life when it comes to jobs, health, getting old, having a family or not: we are travelling the wrong way. The longer it continues the more lopsided our economy will be. We do need to be able to plan for the future and not live on the edge. Then again, a decent life in America seems to be destined to remain a dream.

  3. This is a great point.

    Anecdotally, my sibling has very little motivation to move out of the family home because of the huge risks involved for very little payoff (at least short-term). He has job offers in some cities, but they don't pay enough to live within a 90 minute commute or even without 1-2 flatmates more than bedrooms. With his student loan debt, his quality of life would actually decrease significantly by getting a job.

  4. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics offers 39 pages of statistics and explanation on 2 June 2017.


  5. "Over the last three months, the United States added an average of only 121,000 jobs — the lowest three-month average since 2012."

    Sounds like another triumph for the Trump administration. And just wait until all those millions of new coal mining jobs start getting created starting today!

  6. Or an overhang of Obama and the lack of improvement in the congress.

  7. The obvious question which seems unanswered in all the analysis about low labor participation is how are these people supporting themselves? All types of incentives to work are in place such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Tax Credit but yet people are still not drawn to the workforce. Are they off the books? Is the wage rate so low that it's not worth it to them? Are their spouses high earners? Are they retiring early because they have the means? Do they somehow make out better by accessing government benefits rather than working? Are they home with young children taking a break from the workforce for a few years?

    It seems like a lot of what the Fed has been doing with low rates seems to revolve around labor participation, so knowing the answer to this question is important. Someday the chickens will come home to roost and we'll have to dig out of a downturn when rates are already rock bottom and we are already $20 trillion in debt.

  8. You ask an important question. I don't have statistics for you, but they are out there - the number of people who managed to transition from laid-off and unemployed to disability and SSDI during the aftermath of 2008 is significant. A cottage industry even grew up to assist states in getting people off Medicaid and unemployment to SSDI.

  9. AKA the undgerground economy...

  10. Full employment is a great goal. But it loses meaning if the jobs that are offered to people who are looking don't or barely pay their living expenses.

  11. Minimum-wage legislation deals with your concern.

  12. Depressing data. Is there complementary information about what this large number of not employed, not looking for work individuals is actually doing? Are they homeless? Do they have working spouses? are they dot com millionaires? What?

  13. Well they are not millionaires, unless they are retired.

  14. Ageism is another factor.

  15. You should find the book "Men Without Work". Apparently there are a large number of working-age men who are supported by mothers, wives, or girlfriends. I know 2 of these men personally; both live with their mothers and do not attend school or work. One is 32, the other is 39. Their mothers have all sorts of reasons why Sonnyboy sits around all day playing video games, and after awhile you just don't mention their presence at all.

  16. Sounds right to me.

  17. I've been saying essentially this since the 2008 recession. Nice to see that now Obama is out of office, the NYT has finally seen it too.

  18. Anyone want to work at McDonalds? Amazon?

  19. The jobs that employers like our tech company want can't be filled. Why? Because there seems to be a genuine lack of interest for retraining among the group the 25 to 54 year old group in the US. There are many jobs out there that can't be filled not for lack of opportunity but for lack of will for people to move to where the jobs are and be retrained. I interview all the time when the person who has the ability but not the skills doesn't get the job you would hope they would ask "why". That rarely happens and that's a hole in our educational system. They certainly don't want to be coal miners.

  20. Eli, we don't ask why because most of the time we can't get through the HR fence employers have. We don't ask why because we know that the answers won't be honest. We can't move to where the jobs are if we have family obligations such as aging parents, or sick children, or aren't offered any assistance in moving for a job that can just vanish overnight, or own homes that we can't sell. People are not as mobile as you might want to believe.

    I've attempted to ask why. The answers I've gotten range from we decided not to fill the position to I'm not a good fit even though I have the skills. The best is when I'm told that they need someone to hit the ground running. In other words they don't want to hire anyone who needs any sort of training or time to acclimate and learn the job. Such an answer usually means that the job was filled before I was interviewed and the interview was a formality.

    Don't mistake a lack of questions for a lack of curiosity. We've also been told, as job seekers or former employees, to go away, not bother you, often under threat of being arrested. Employees are not viewed as allies in the workplace. We treated as and viewed as enemies.

  21. That is true. Employers now want The Perfect Person, and can drag their feet nearly forever if they care to. Any "re-training" is usually the responsibility (and expense) of the person wanting the job. Companies don't re-train anymore; why bother when you can digitize or robotize a position out of existence? I was let go in a downsizing of a major corporation 3 years ago. NONE of the positions left behind have been filled; the jobs were simply eliminated in a corporate puff of smoke. I was lucky, since I was 67 and eligible for Medicare and full Social Security; plus I could count on a small pension and 2 other income streams from investments. But the rest of those hired were all in the late-50's - early 60's. I still wonder how they are doing now.

  22. Do you really think that if an older IT worker, with years of experience, studied and got certified in a different language and applied for a job using this skill, that an employer would hire them, despite their not having any work experience with this language? This has not been my experience.

  23. I've just been told my position is being terminated. I'm 58. I want to work but I'm considered outside of my prime working years. Yet I can't retire. Any employer who looks at me and my years of experience in my field is going to want to underpay me or just not hire me. And if they can figure out my age they will probably decide that I'm too old, too stupid, and not worth hiring. I work in IT. I used to work in biological research until the jobs in that area dried up. This is the latest in a long line of downsizings over the last 29 years that I've lived through. A few times I wound up without a job for more than 6 months even though I sent out hundreds of resumes. During my entire working life, as part of the Baby Boom generation I've been considered disposable, not worth treating with courtesy, and definitely not worth paying.

    I've reached the point where I'd love to stop sending out resumes for jobs and just stop working. Not because I don't want to work but because I'm tired. It's gotten to the point where I feel like I'm struggling to survive, to maintain my sanity and that it's no longer worth it. I know I'm not a sought after commodity. It's depressing. But what's more depressing is being told that I have to try harder to find a job when there's no interest in hiring me, even at a minimum wage level. The things that would help all of us find and keep jobs are not being done or are not occurring.

  24. Mid-cohort Boomers were 55 when the Great Recession hit. So unemployment figures beginning then do not account for us. The stats paint no picture.

    Some of us are working and intend to until age 67 or later. Some of us would like to re-enter the labor force after raising a family. Some of us, especially men, have struggled. Some of us have been laid off because of age, even if that isn't the stated reason.

    But the main thing is that many of us are able and willing to work and jobs for us are getting harder to find. On top of it, we aren't even counted.

    Oh, but if any of us get disability it's a huge political deal, and as we slide into our Medicare years, a lot of ink gets spilled, and when we hit 67 in four years, ahhhhh!

    We need help now to stay employed, even as we downsize as much as we can simultaneously, and to keep us earning as long as possible.

    Yet we are treated as if we are radioactive.
    If anyone reading this is an employer, please hire a mid-cohort Boomer!

  25. Can you relocate to the Washington DC metro area? Here people in your demographic are a hot commodity and there are many jobs in all fields.

  26. Henry, you should have a look at NYU IT Help Desk openings. Benefits and full time. If you have social (phone) skills and patience in addition to IT skills you could do well. Sincerely hope that helps. If NYU Central HR ignores you, call NYU IT HR directly :)

  27. How do you choose not to work/leave the labor market? How many are working under the table? Are self employed counted as employed? Seems like the number of people on those categories can be all that high. What are the rest doing for sustenance?

  28. Living off the wages of family members who are working.

  29. The people I know are draining their retirement savings.

  30. Yes, the BLS counts the self-employed as employed, if they admit they are working. Obviously, those working for cash may not want to tell a government agency that they have work.

  31. The "reserve army of the unemployed" will get called up when employers pay the living wage level.

    On a slightly different aspect, in 2009 and 2010, when we had very low interest rates and very high unemployment, a large government infrastructure program is just what was needed. In 2017 and 2018, with unemployment low and interest rates rising, we may just get one. Perfect timing, DC!!!

  32. One can see though why Trump has such a dislike/hatred for President Obama. The former President in his eight years in office created 11.3 million jobs. Looks like he didn’t leave Trump much room for improving the job situation. And when Trump barks about putting the coal miners back to work it sounds like all our employment problems will be solved. We’re talking about 60,000 coal miners out of work. A mere drop in the bucket.

  33. I think there is a trend to work less, especially with my generation (Millenials). Go on YouTube and see how many people are looking for passive income, building a tiny house, residing in a van, or living out of a backpack. There is a push for minimalism, less stuff, and more time. I live on a small portion of my income so I can spend a few years outside of the workforce. Living on less and with less is an active driver of so many people dropping out of the workforce.

  34. My parents were children of the depression and as a child I could see how it framed their outlook. I think the damage from the last 15 years is almost as great.

    It's hard to feel secure even if you have a job, and there is so little faith in our institutions, governmental or corporate.

    So on that basis the unemployment numbers don't resonate with folks.

  35. Neil:The numbers are, as all government numbers, meaningless, but were you to assume they were correct how does one account for a creation of 138,000 jobs and population growth of 200,000 being positive? That the participation rate is so low is a testimony to the nature of job direction for the past forty years, a slow slide from a one check household being able to support in reasonable comfort a middle class life style to the necessity of cobbling together two or more minimum wage jobs per person just to survive. This of course as the wealth accumulated by the one percent has reached the stratosphere. In the fifties and sixties in San Mateo California a bank manager would live in the same neighborhood as a teacher, a garbage man, a small business owner, a physician and believe it or not the President of an oil company and father of the future editor of the New York Times. They were all fine, civic minded people and I doubt any of them had a million bucks, and if they did they sure didn't brag about it. Coincidentally or not this all changed when Nixon went off the gold standard in order to print money to pay for the Vietnam War. Overnight prices of housing started shooting up while wages remained flat, it was called stagflation at the time, a state the middle class has been in for forty years. By the seventies with relaxed immigration and the beginning of globalization it was game over for upward mobility for all in America and game on for rush to riches for the few.

  36. You blame Nixon for going off the gold standard. I blame Reagan for what he did to our tax structure and to our philosophy about the role of government. Reagan ushered in the "greed is good" era and a lot of the population happily followed right along.

  37. The labor force participation rate for prime working aged men is about as low as it has ever been since records began be kept in 1948. Many, including some Federal Reserve officials have expressed bewilderment as to why labor force participation has not recovered as it had in prior recessions. I would suggest that for some the answers can be found in the spam folder of their email accounts.
    The spam folder in my email account contains numerous emails from attorneys promising that they can get me disability payments. If the labor force participation rate, especially for prime working-age males ages 25-54, had followed its typical cyclical pattern, the unemployment rate would now be well above 5.0%.

    See "Disability's Disabling Impact On The Labor Market" http://seekingalpha.com/article/3342635 historically labor force participation has behaved cyclically with a slightly declining trend. Dubious and fraudulent disability claims have vastly increased the number of those collecting disability with commensurate decreases in labor force participation and the unemployment rate. A segment on CBS "60 Minutes" quoted employees of the Social Security Administration and administrative law judges who asserted that lawyers are recruiting millions of people to make fraudulent disability claims. One such judge said "if the American public knew what was going on in our system half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits."..'"

  38. Social Security disability claims and Social Security claim approval are two entirely different things. Initial claim approval is 36%. Besides, what jobs are available for those making claims?

  39. Lance
    I have never received such a letter recruiting me to file for disability.
    Out of work for almost 5 yrs. Not on SS in 60,s perfect target technically.
    How did you sign up?
    LOL, really?
    My contact with disability claimants,, 2 personally, was they were both qualified but took over a year to get approved? Love to hear more details. But am puzzled by your claims and what I have seen?

    Happy to hear facts.
    Thank you.

  40. How many people aren't employed due to the fact that it's easier to live off of investing? Especially since the markets have been gaining spectacularly since Nov? If I had enough savings in the market earning enough income from a few day trades I wouldn't bother looking for work. You pay a lot less taxes for that income anyway.

  41. No, short term capital gains are subject to income tax at the full rate. It is capital gains and dividends that get the lower rates.

  42. Take an adult who wants to work. Watch them send out resume after resume. Watch what happens when there is little or no response. Have this continue for more than a few months. Watch as the adult revises the resume, sends it out again, waits for the responses that never come, can't spend money or plan for the future because they don't have a job or one that pays enough and you'll see a very discouraged adult.

    Repeat this scenario more than a few times over the course of a working life and a good many will, at some point, stop looking. The waste of skills because the jobs aren't where the employees are, or the prejudice and ineptitude of the HR departments is enormous. Apply this to every person who has to work for a living and you will see a huge number of discouraged, depressed, and downright hostile people who feel that their country has deserted them or considers them worthless. Don't forget how their families are affected either.

  43. This article shows what is just slishmento awful about the Establishment. Not a w

  44. What is NOT explicitly said by this article is that much of the new job creation is low paid jobs, ones that much of the population won't take. That is really the only practical interpretation of the facts presented. Why else is it that there are so many people on the sidelines not even looking, and people who are looking can find something to do?

    But politicians tout their success at managing the economy because of the low unemployment and continuing job creation. So the stock market soars on anticipation of a strengthening economy that (surprisingly?) doesn't strengthen as much as one would like. Why? Because too many people have jobs that are inadequate to pay their bills, to say nothing of helping to expand the economy.

    Somehow, standard statistics reported to the public MUST start to include wage growth not just the growth of (low paying) jobs.

  45. Obama added millions of jobs during his time in office, and the entire time the republicans talked negatively about it, how the numbers were misleading, how he was doing everything wrong, etc. The NYT supported Obama and spoke positive of those numbers mostly, cheering each time they came out.

    Now trump is in office, and we have a positive jobs number. Yet now the NYT is like those nay-sayer GOPers of Obama years, finding anything negative to say about the positive job numbers. How they are misleading and everything is actually bad.

    No one liked those negative GOP commenters during Obama's tenures, and I don't care how much we disagree with Trump's new policies, lets just stop needing to put negative spin on positive news because of it.

  46. Actually this is the same conversation we've been having for a long time, during the Obama years and continuing into the Trump years.

    Jobs are being created. But they are not necessarily "good jobs" and there are not enough of them. I know many well-qualified people (not underprivileged in any way) who are over 50 and have been shocked to discover that they are not regarded as employable any more. Apparently this is not a rare problem. Many other people I know were paid to retire early as part of downsizing by their employers. This is not rare either. Their children are having a rough time getting a toehold in the economy after college and can expect to spend years working at jobs they are overqualified for or doing "gigs" of various sorts. There are a lot fewer people in my world who have "real jobs," with benefits such as health insurance. And my world includes a lot of white "elites" (Trump's word, not mine) who should be doing well but they aren't really.

    Trump has turned the conversation toward hatred and blame toward those dark people; I guess if you're busy hating on immigrants and Muslims, you're not wondering why only lousy jobs are being created. We need to figure out a way to end that conversation and start a better one.

  47. You're exactly right that no one liked the constant Obama-bashing and obstructiveness of Establishment Republicans--especially the majority of conservative voters. That's why none of the Establishment Republicans were chosen to be the Republican presidential candidate. Trump is not and was not a politician; he was voted in instead.

    Establishment Democrats are going to find themselves kicked to the curb in similar fashion if they don't stop the bashing and obstruction.

    All those Bernie voters PLUS the Trump voters? They are sick of party politics
    and the endless fighting, smearing, and obstruction on both sides. And they will vote for another non-politician if that person is more worried about results for all Americans vs a party "win".

  48. As you can see, some people are afraid to admit what's going on. The people making arguments like this comment on this article are people who don't want to shake things up. They want neoliberalism.

  49. This is a distressing article because it could be so much better. Irwin is discussing a vital problem for all of us, or rather the intersection of a number of vital problems. However his data suffers from apples-to-oranges comparisons, among other deficiencies. The labor participation rate quantifies the fraction of the overall population who are currently working. Only a fraction of the nonworking people could actually work. Certainly few people in the US are advocating child labor, or work camps for the ill, the disabled, or the old. For those with obsolete work skills, the time required to reeducate them is measured in years, not months.
    Irwin also makes the usual supply-sider assumption that by far the most important brake on our economy is the supply of goods and services made in the US. The assumption is that if a US factory makes more goods then the public will immediately buy them. However, that requires that the consuming public is currently stashing away a lot of savings because they are so frustrated by empty store shelves. I don't see this at all right now. Domestic consumption in the US is over 70% of the economy. Right now these consumers are seeing the likelihood of massive reductions in their compensation to pay for new tax breaks for the wealthy. Prudent consumers right now are not splurging until they see how much more they are going to have to pay for healthcare, extra road and bridge tolls, and education for their children.

  50. Still looking for work. I'm qualified to do anything from light manual labor (I'm not a young person any longer, and that may be part of the issue) to teaching at the university level (another problem, since the budget meltdown in Illinois means that there is essentially no hiring at any institution of higher education.) I'm not bashful about working below my qualifications, been doing it all my life. Just spent a week on a temp job, my first work since graduating with a PhD a year ago.

    "Full employment" is a term of statistical hocus-pocus that underestimates the continuing impact of joblessness and the waste of human talent in a society that values profit over any other benchmark of social good.

  51. Mike you've got to leave Illinois. I left Ohio 23 years ago and it was the best career move of my life.

  52. We are nowhere near full employment, we are near the bottom of opportunity, even for those with skills. Many retirees would work in their professions part time if opportunity was there. They won't be working at fast food or other physically demanding jobs.

  53. " At a micro level, that would mean more people earning a living; at the macro level, it would increase the economic potential of the nation. "

    The country's 'economic potential' is still based on consumerism. I am a non-woring spouse who long ago did the math and came to the understanding that my participation in the work force would increase our cash flow without increasing our standard of living. The gross national product - and profits for the 1% - are not my responsibility in spite of what 'corporate America' would have me believe. My family's standard of living is my responsibility, and I can do more for that standard by not working than I can by punching a clock for someone else.

  54. Excellent points, reasoned analyses, proper expressions of disdain and confidence. The country needs more like her.

  55. According to the St. Louis Fed's FRED economic data website the current Labor Force Participation Rate for 25 to 54 year olds is 81.5% not 78.4% as stated in this article. They cite the BLS as their source, I wonder where the discrepancy comes from?
    But as to the article itself, I'm not sure of it but I worry that we may have a sizable amount of structural unemployment. Also, I worry that in order to fix it we either need to send ourselves in reverse (ramp up oil/gas, find ways to force greater domestic manufacturing, or whatever else) or we need to engage in some pretty big public policy that both funds/facilitates skills training and (probably) requires structural reforms to our education/ skills provisioning sector (and that sector is highly entrenched). The reason I worry is because I don't want to do the former and I doubt we have the political will for the latter.

  56. Glad you mentioned that LFPR, which looks at 25 to 54 year olds. Fact is, the labor market is conventionally considered must broader than that, with people from 55 to 65 still working in large numbers, wanting to work, being EXPECTED to work by politicians, in particular, and being UNABLE to find work in huge numbers, too. They MUST be included and counted to provide even partially accurate data.

  57. I'm no economist, so this is a half baked theory at best, but if I were a betting man I'd put my money on inability of even a very tight labor market to drive meaningful wage gains for the majority. So much has happened in the labor market over the last 20-30 years to reduce the bargaining power of labor, that I think it would take an unprecedented labor shortage to boost the paycheck of your average worker. I'm thinking of factors like the massive level of consolidation that has occurred across nearly all industries, the dramatic increase in the prevalence of restrictive covenants (aka non-compete clauses) in employment agreements, the near destruction of private sector unions, and the gradual rise in the strength of intellectual property protections (e.g. increasing length of pharmaceutical patents). All of these things chip away at the negotiating position of the employee and the entrepreneur relative to industry incumbents. Besides suppressing wage growth, I'd also bet many of these factors underlie the steadily decreasing rates of new business formation the US has been experiencing.

  58. This shows what is so awful about the Establishment. Not a word about wages except a hint of the obvious fact that wages are so low that many find it not worth their time to work.

    So the market is up (including yesterday, which probably was the result of a leak). Low wages mean high profits. Interest rates may stay low, which helps stock buybacks but not wages. Financial stimulus is politically possible only if Trump makes his tax cuts for the rich greater. No doubt, NYT readers will follow Ivanka in getting champagne popcycles.

  59. I believe the cash-based economy (whether illegal activity or, more so, working under the table) is much larger than these official govt statistics estimate. Many people counted as unemployed or not seeking a job are actually working.

  60. Ever been to Italy? You can buy anything you can think of on the street, in an alley, on gondolas. No VAT, no duty, no fuss. (Wear it home on the plane & take a night flight). They are the third largest GDP in Europe, reportedly, and yet have a vast underground economy that is conservatively estimated at 25% of the reported GDP. As the onerous bite of income, excise, sales, and Fica taxes reach 45% of gross wages in some locales, is it any wonder much activity is going underground? Those second jobs, the moonlighting, the unlicensed child care? Cash. Folks are happy to pay it, we are happy to take it.

  61. kj New York

    People are considered not looking for work when their unemployment benefits have run out. While collecting benefits, they sign in to report that they are available for work; when their benefits run out, they can no longer sign in and are then considered "not looking for work."

  62. This is a strong analysis. While the spike in people leaving the work force was large last month, that trend will continue because of retirements. Is it also possible that because of the dismantling of organized labor, rise of gig economy, etc., many people who are working are just not countable ? I understand that John L. Lewis, Sam Gompers & Walter Reuther are not coming back, but until wages rise the baby boomer retirement wave will wash away any trickle of folks returning to the work force in significant numbers.

  63. The article doesn't mention retirees, but they must be a part of "the unemployed who are not looking for a job" group. In addition, I know several people who retired early, for various reasons.

  64. They ought to start counting premature deaths too.

  65. The latest statistics available seem to be 2014. They show that in the 25-54 age group, 1.1% of men and 1.3% of women are retired. In 55-64, they only give total statistics, and 13.8% are retired.

  66. One more reason why the way we measure "unemployment" and "full employment" is a smokescreen meant to paper over the way capitalism *actually* works.

  67. Unemployment may be low, but underemployment certainly isn't. I work in academia, where many people are highly skilled and of course highly educated, yet eke out a living with great difficulty cobbling together adjunct positions that include no benefits. If you want a job you can find one, but a full-time, benefits-paying, tenure-track position? Not so likely.

  68. What about savings? Were you to work and save your entire salary that could transform your retirement situation.

  69. not at all...that trend has been downward since the late 80's...my advice to people seeking higher education? Don't do it unless everything is paid for and you are prepared to work in a profession that has nothing to do with your studies!! If you are THAT lucky!!

  70. That is a simple misallocation of resources. The number of people who want to be professors of English, rock stars, film directors, and famous writers is much greater than the number of positions available. Millions of very talented people are competing for these positions.

    If these academics had put the same amount of effort into becoming tax preparers or electricians, they would have jobs. But few people think they would find such careers highly enjoyable.

  71. I think the "unemployed" rate in the 50-60 year old group would be interesting. It has become impossible for older workers to find comparable work they were laid off from and they are often not willing to accept jobs @ rates 50-80% less than they were earning for often very physical work.

  72. Thank you. We desperately need research and information on this. Most stats and studies look at employment of the 25 to 54 age group. I'd like to know how and why that span is used, still used, when we live in an era in which people work and are, actually, EXPECTED to work to their mid to late 60s now. If the studies keep stopping at age 54, it excludes a huge swath of the labor market and provides only partial and inaccurate data on the situation. Not good enough.

  73. They do 55-64 at the BLS. But to them, a job is a job, and they don't care about the pay.

    The statistics do show that work force participation among 55-64 year-olds increased by 1% between 2004 and 2014.

  74. Back in the 1950's when I was in elementary school we were given to understand that some day machines would do all the work needed to produce the goods we consume. So it seemed (to a child) like a good thing that work would no longer be necessary. But now that it is actually coming to pass, we realize that without work there is no pay. What is needed is a system of guaranteed income so that even if you don't work you are still able to live and, more importantly, to consume, because consumption is what drives the economy.

  75. "some day machines would do all the work needed to produce the goods we consume."

    It is a myth that technology will work will no longer exist due to technlogy. Yes, automation and robots are replacing manufacturing jobs today. But 150 years ago, most jobs were in agriculture. Today we feed the nation (and the world) with far fewer worker. People eventually do other things, and new industries emerge.

    We are in a transition to a post-industrial economy. It is difficult and painful. The transition in the 19th century from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy was also painful. The great union factory jobs of the 1960s were once the Dickensian hell of factory work in the Gilded Age, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

    Technology is often sold as "labor saving". But human nature works differently. We save labor on the old tasks, and more than make up with it on new endeavors (both individually and as a society). People claim to be busier than ever today, despite all the new technology. If you look at the history of people and technology, it is about increased productivity rather than a reduction in time spent working.

    Again, we are in the midst of a major structural change in the economy -- which is painful for many of us in the labor force. But we are not witnessing the end of work; just a transition to a partially undefined future of new work.

  76. So many seem to understand that changes are taking place in the economy, but no one wants to talk about the aptitude gap. It's simply not reasonable to expect everyone to be some kind of advanced engineer or medical doctor.

  77. Poor quality of jobs and the high cost of childcare are important factors depressing the labor force participation rate, along with the retirement of the boomers. But what about the fact that we have increasing numbers of adults in the US population who are physically too sick to work (without necessarily being on disability), or mentally ill, or poorly educated and lacking the ability to get up, get dressed, and go to work on time every day? You can't build a robust economy on an ailing workforce.

    If we had worker-friendly economic policies, universal health insurance, an adequate social safety net, and decently funded education, and if we worked to fulfill the pent-up demand for these things for the next ten years, then maybe we'd begin to see a change.

  78. Two recent articles here jump out and answer this conundrum: A full time job with steady hours and pay is anything but (similar but not exact title) and the one about Wal-Mart penalizing it's workers for taking sick leave to care for ailing relatives and not accepting dr-signed notes. If one considers the monthly expense of a nursing home or day care vs what Wal-Mart pays or any number of large, corporate rent-seekers in our "new service economy", then it is a no-brainer. Welcome to low-growth or stagnation; work increasingly just doesn't pay unless you own the joint.

  79. It would help if there was some background information on how unemployment numbers, and the number of those not in the job market, are calculated. Hasn't there been a shift in how these are calculated?

    A number of years ago, unemployment benefits reduced how long you could receive them as a cost saving measure. Now, those who run out are simply not considered "unemployed" and are bumped into the other category of "choosing to remain unemployed". This tactic was simply a way to make the statistics look rosier.

    It would have been helpful to know if this is still being done and what else may be contributing to the politicization of statistical data. It seems to me that adding the two categories together will give a more accurate number of unemployed.

  80. The problem is a historically large mismatch in skill levels and job openings, including among the disproportionate share (vs. prior recessions) of those who lost jobs in the higher-wage finance, information and energy sectors, and whose jobs were automated or demand-shifted out of existence. Many are disinterested in or unqualified for lower-wage jobs in health care, transport, logistics, trade and other sectors where labor demand is strong.

  81. If we were close to full employment then employers would be competing with each other to hire a dwindling supply of workers. The result would be steeply rising wages. We simply aren't seeing that. 2.5% a year wage increases are barely above the inflation rate. When productivity growth is taken into account, unit labor costs are flat or declining.

    The last time that the US economy was unquestionably at full employment was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, just before inflation took off. At that point wages were growing at 6-8% per year. That is what full employment looks like.

    We probably came close to full employment in the late 90s, when wages were again growing at 5-8% per year. In the 2000s wage growth hit 5% for a while, but that wasn't full employment.

    What we have is an economy which is struggling with the interest rate increases and is generating fewer jobs. And we have a Fed which is desperately looking for an excuse to raise interest rates to please their masters in the banking industry.

  82. "If we were close to full employment then employers would be competing with each other to hire a dwindling supply of workers. The result would be steeply rising wages."

    Should be an editor's pick. You hit it on the mark.

  83. Did you forget the nineties? Unemployment was under 3%, and 19-year-olds were dropping out of college to become CEOs of dot-com startups. They were throwing money out the window!

    It didn't last, of course, but it was exciting.

  84. And could the economy hit YOY 4% growth at current level of employment as a current budget estimates?

  85. You mean, can the economy grow 100% over the current 2% annual GDP growth with very low inflation? Not possible, and even if we saw 2.5% growth YOY, inflation could undermine any benefits in terms of job and wage growth.

  86. Employment figures are only part of the equation when considering whether the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee considers whether to raise interest rates. The other piece is inflation, and there is still an absence of evidence that inflation has meaningfully risen to the level desired by the FOMC, and as I've said repeatedly in the past, there is little basis for the FOMC to pursue 2 percent inflation, as opposed to 3 percent, as its goal.

  87. If more folks are financially comfortable enough that they can withdraw from the work force, that's surely good news. The point of an economy is to deliver wealth, not to force people to work for their entire lives. As the population's average age continues to increase, it's natural to expect the work force participation rate to decline.

  88. No small numbers of Boomers are, yes, conventionally retiring at age 65. But the fact also is that a number of Boomers and younger Boomers will never have that opportunity or, now, luxury. They are being pushed out of their jobs and have fallen off the unemployment rolls after looking for work and finding nothing. Age discrimination is HUGE in this country. Let's address and work on that.

  89. I have friends in their 50s who have been pressured to retire early or simply restructured out of their jobs. I wonder how many of those people make up the number of people not looking for work. Their chances of finding other employment paying what they were making is next to nothing, so they scrimp and live off what they have until they qualify for medicare and social security. Some of them take one or more low paying jobs just to cover cobra payments for health insurance until medicare kicks in. I would like to see your reporters taking a look at this. It is rampant age discrimination and it goes on everywhere.

  90. Someone needs to recognize that one of the big reasons for age discrimination is the medical / insurance costs of older workers. If we want to get / keep 50+ Americans working, government needs to find some way to help companies pay these costs for older adults. This would go a long way to ending this age discrimination.

  91. It's call single payer health insurance. Medicare for all. Most advanced countries in the world have it and they have better health outcomes than we do.

  92. The reason they have "better outcomes?" First the obesity rate in the US is 10x that of Japan, which has the highest average life span and 2X that of Canada. Fat people have much shorter life spans than those who are not.
    Second, these countries do not count death of infants the same way we do -- for better or worse -- which raises the life expectancy.
    The cancer survival rates in these country are significantly higher than Canada, but we can't do much to extend the lives of the obese among us.

  93. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day and retiring for the most part, and a skill set mismatch between job openings and the un or under employed, looks like we'll be in a holding pattern for awhile. If Trump gets a big infrastructure bill through, we won't have anyone to do the work absent huge wage increases that will ripple throughout the economy.

  94. One statistic that is missing is the quality of the jobs that the "employed" have.
    A growing number of the employed are barely making ends meet. I think that is one of the factors causing the decline in the participation rate.
    In addition although compensation for the employed is increasing costs are increasing at a greater rate. More and more people are working several jobs just to survive. More stress and associated adverse health effects.
    Not a encouraging situation.

  95. The primary change that has fundamentally changed the economy can be best described by Warren Buffett, who said, "Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won, It's been a rout."

    The forces driving inequality through the class warfare that Warren Buffett points to are cumulative. It is the compounding effect of shift away from taxes on capital income such as dividends, capital gains and inheritances each year as the rich get proverbially richer which is the prime generator of inequality.

    It is not just a coincidence that tax cuts for the rich have preceded both the 1929 and 2007 depressions. The Revenue acts of 1926 and 1928 worked exactly as the Republican Congresses that pushed them through promised. The dramatic reductions in taxes on the upper income brackets and estates of the wealthy did indeed result in increases in savings and investment. However, overinvestment (by 1929 there were over 600 automobile manufacturing companies in the USA) caused the depression that made the rich, and most everyone else, ultimately much poorer.

    There has been a tremendous shift in the tax burdens away from the rich on onto the middle class. The overinvestment problem caused by the reduction in taxes on the wealthy is exacerbated by the increased tax burden on the middle class. While overinvestment creates more factories and shopping centers; higher payroll taxes reduces the purchasing power of middle-class.."

  96. This may be one of those sets of numbers which require more than just pushing buttons on computers to analyze. During the Leave It to Beaver days, when every able body man who wanted a job got one and when almost every man wanted that job, that still meant half the potential labor force was unemployed--all those stay at home mothers. Now we look at people who are not working and the tacit assumption is they ought to be working or seeking employment. Is it not possible those who are not seeking employment should not be?

  97. One fairly well-paid breadwinner in a family does give, say, the mother the choice to spend all her time working in the home able to find ways to economically run the family. Very valuable work if the family can get by on it. As long as it's her choice.

  98. What is termed a "mismatch between skills and the labor force" should be examined. It's really an inflexibility on the part of employers to re-imagine what they need to fit the remaining available workeforce. During the downturn, employers got lean by combining positions to save $$. Example: a cashier must also stock (physical component) and everyone must work weekends. There are vast numbers of willing workers who would re-enter if employers became more creative in task structure, less discriminatory, and wages more competitive. This will only happen when desperation sets in.

  99. Does this data account for geography at all? It's pretty well known that most of the demand for jobs right is in a small number of metro areas where the high cost of living and lack of affordable real estate makes them less desirable for everyone except the highest wage earners.

    Left behind are the places where housing is affordable. If those areas are close enough, people can commute. And if you're try to scrape by on welfare, SSI disability or unemployment, your money goes much further in areas with no jobs.

  100. One statistic that is never reported is the number of people, male and female, over the age of 50 who are seeking employment. I'm in that group. I was out of work for three years until I moved 2000 miles and qualified to be a teacher in a Title 1 school. I'm single and well-educated, and realize not everyone has that option. I know there are many others in my age group, particularly male, who have been out of work for years, applied for thousands of jobs, and still remain unemployed.

  101. Such statistics are on the BLS site. As someone who was seeking work, you status was in the workforce but unemployed, according to the BLS definitions.

    The BLS tables show that in May 2017, 3.0% of men 45 to 54, and 2.9% of men 55 to 64, were out of work, available to work, and actively seeking work.


  102. I'm astounded and skeptical. What are all these employed people doing, flipping burgers at minimum wage?

  103. One way to improve labor market participation over time would be to have an effective national health care system. How absurd it is to think that the US can make health insurance so difficult to obtain and keep for so many people--and yet expect to have a robustly healthy population of 25-54 year olds who are ready willing and able to go out and get a job!

    As long as the US lacks an effective national health insurance policy, it will have a high proportion of adults who are too chronically ill, too disabled, too overwhelmed with physical ailments to get and keep a job!

    Hey politicians in Washington--is this clear enough to you yet, or should we explain it again?

  104. Maybe "explain it again" but differ in reasons why national health insurance or single payer healthcare is the way to go. If industry didn't have to be responsible for their employees' health care a tremendous burden would be lifted from business ledgers nationwide. Someone who wants to work can be much more mobile if they weren't tied to one employer because of its health plan. Likewise, they'd keep moving to better paying jobs.

  105. One would think employers (particularly the large ones with PACs that can buy legislation) would be clamoring to be rid of the costly burden of employee health care. Their competitors in every other "developed" country don't have that burden. But if anything, corporate executives side with Republicans in their opposition to true universal health care.

    I can only speculate that corporate executives believe tying health care to employment suppresses wages enough to compensate for the expense. The fear of losing health care along with a job makes workers docile, compliant, and willing to accept wage theft and other abuses (or at best, stagnant wages that actually amount to annual pay cuts as employers continually increase "cost-sharing" for benefits). Thus, the ability to instill loyalty and squeeze unpaid labor out of employees through fear matters more than even the sacred bottom line. In the absence of unions that can exert countervailing force, employer-based health care makes sense as a way to disempower workers.

    Corporate executives may also regard large numbers of unemployed and unemployable people as beneficial, as they provide additional fear and intimidation useful for holding down wages and squeezing more "shareholder value" out of the current workforce. It's all about taking advantage of the increasingly unequal power of employers and workers. But how much inequality is required for people to reach the breaking point and start fighting back?

  106. The key to addressing the fall off in labor market participation is to tackle age discrimination. But, it's an issue neither Democrats or Republicans choose to address.

  107. Employers have criteria that are very narrow and specific, and terms that are unfavorable, so people keep out of the job market. It's like those storefronts on Bleeker Street in Manhattan that are vacant with no tenants, because the rent is exorbitant. Instead of negotiating, employers just hold out, probably in hopes of getting foreign workers.

  108. I am a 73-year old Engineer working at a major defense company and we are on schedule to hire about 4000 people each year for the next five years...and that does not include the fully paid and insured 600-700 interns we take on each summer.

    I don't see much discrimination around here as long as you are qualified and have a good solid work ethic.

    P.S. I don't play golf or collect stamps and have worked air defense my entire career and love it!

  109. Yes, if you have a highly advanced skill set you can get a good paying job. I don't think the comment you're replying to indicated otherwise. Ask the janitors at your building what working conditions are like. That will give you an idea of what the "other America" faces each day.

  110. how much of the seeming disparity is the relationship between full time jobs and part time jobs... income from work... and local cost of living?

    I would guess the way jobs are measured and accounted for is based on decades-old assumptions about what work actually means and how much can be gained by working v its personal cost.

  111. I am a healthy 71 year-old widower. I am educated, have had a long career in consulting for marketing and brand strategy. I want to work. From what I've found, I'd be lucky to be hired as a cashier or telephone sales representative.

  112. Mr. Irwin puts way too much emphasis on month to month variations. Instead look at year over year trends.

    Labor force + 1.3 million;
    Employment + 1.9 million;
    Full-time employment + 2.4 million;
    Part-time employment - 0.5 million;
    Unemployed - 0.6 million;
    Part-time workers who want full time jobs - 1.2 million;

    All of the year over year trends look pretty good.

  113. When people over 50 can get hired for meaningful work, the participation rate will rise.

  114. I wonder if there is a concept around Job Quality? One cause could be that the job market is gaining on low skilled / low mobility jobs with little expectation of wage increases.

    It could explain the resistance to reentering the work force that we are seeing. Has anyone seen a report on this?

  115. The quality of available jobs is crucial, not the quantity, and indeed it's part of a larger problem.
    For while the top one percent reaps most of the rewards of our economy, many of the rest are left with low-paying, no-security, dead-end jobs that offer few or no benefits and even less satisfaction.
    This is not trickle-down economics. Instead, shamefully, sadly, it’s become a trickle-down-the-crumbs economy.
    An enlightened economy should serve the people, all the people, and not merely exploit them to the hilt, for the benefit of a privileged few.
    This is not socialism or any other ism - it's simply a plea for fairness, human decency and compassion, as expressed in the ways we structure our society.
    A society where our current priorities are so terribly skewed, where the only gods we truly seem to worship are money, property values, and greed --above people, above life itself.
    It's an economy not pre-ordained nor written in stone- it's man-made. And what can be man-made to mostly benefit the few can surely be altered to reasonably serve the most.
    An economy that ignores true community, an economy whose most salient feature is obsessive greed at the top --this will be our downfall, unless we realize our mutual dependency and interwoven needs, and unless we move towards caring, concern and change.

  116. I recently applied for a job with the new Whole Foods store that opened in our neighborhood. I have an MS and 20 plus years experience working in science
    and management. I was applying for a $13 per hour position. Over qualified? Sure, but I can't think of any $13 per hour supermarket job I couldn't learn in a day or two. But I wasn't hired. I'm 66 years old. Makes me wonder.

  117. Are stay at home Moms included in the stats? (not looking for work stats?)

    What about teenagers who just turned 16 years old?

    I have twin 16 year old girls that don't have their driver's licenses yet and wont til next year due to timing of permits etc. Would they be in the stats?

    What about retirees who retired before 65 years old?

  118. These jobs numbers are bogus. The only thing correct in this article is that workers are not being as productive as they could because they are not being paid and valued like they should. That we should magically expect productivity gains without salary increases is outrageous... let's see how much more we can squeeze out of the peasant serfs.

  119. I suggest The President needs to read "Tally's Corner" a book read in the Sociology community - What good is a job that is not sufficient to produce the income necessary to exist / raise a family above the poverty line? If there are not jobs that pay what is required why would we want to have them? (Really good book BTW)

    Of course The President / his administration / most of Capitol Hill would have no experience in these matters - so here we are.

  120. Neil -- Great book and great idea. unfortunately, this president doesn't have the attention span or the reading skills to get through a whole book (much less a teleprompter).

  121. Yes, but think about all those new jobs, in the " pipeline ". Without Environmental protections and all those pesky regulations. Why, WE will be #1 in the entire world, in poisoning the PLANET. USA! USA! USA!

  122. But who will trade with us, given that our government cannot be trusted on its deals?

  123. Meanwhile, the markets keep on whistling past the graveyard...

  124. I support a decent minimum wage, single-payer healthcare and strong worker protections. But this large number of people who are apparently unwilling to work mystifies me and I wonder how they're supporting themselves. Are they mooching off a spouse, partner or the government? At some point people just have to get off their butts.

  125. All of the above. We don't have any of these. For most people, they will work for 12/hr and be forced to pay something toward an unaffordable healthcare system no matter what they do. You will also be forced to kiss your employers ass if you want to keep your job. Rotating shifts, mandatory overtime, ect ect. So Yeah, I guess just tell people to deal with it.

  126. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has the right idea. Training workers with a public/private partnership with the Markle Foundation to fill 40000 good-paying jobs that require skills that are tough to find in the populace. This is what we need, not a blowhard who talks much but does nothing.

  127. Well, the Donald will find some way to blame the Obama. But the mere presence of His Trumpship sure has yet to demonstrate His Trumpship's unique ability to make workers want to work. Perhaps they just don't want to, don't need to, and were happy to spend the year ObamaBashing. Maybe the kids have graduated finally and are off for the summer at the beach.
    That's the sound of His Trumpship's bellyflop. Ouch!

  128. The positive spin so many reporters put on the drop in unemployment is utter nonsense.

    If significant numbers of discouraged workers who've stopped seeking employment decided they need to work (because there's no more social safety net) the unemployment rate would soar because we're not creating enough jobs. Stop the 'happy talk' and report what the data really mean.

  129. Precisely. It is absurd that the purported unemployment rate doesn't include people who have giving up looking for a job because they've come to the conclusion they can't find one worth taking. That's exactly the people who should be counted most because they reflect the abject failure of the labor market.

  130. Note to all. This USA federal collected data counts any job that someone had for 20 hours in a work week as an employed person with a job. Temporary partime jobs count as employment. Laughable

  131. It's only "laughable" to those who don't understand the series. "This USA federal" also collects many other data regarding employment, including "working part time for economic reasons".

    They publish it right out in the open, regularly... for anyone to see:


    I mean, Golly Gee, here's a table with half a dozen series including U3 (the "headline" number, because most news outlets pick it up, and U6 "Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force"

    That's right, the BLS publishes a series that adds involuntary part time workers to the unemployed.


    And you can easily see the long term trend in U6 with a couple clicks of the mouse: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/U6RATE

    The story at this point is participation and wage growth (or lack thereof).

  132. The failure of wages to rise in a tight labor market may be due employers who would rather have jobs go unfilled than to offer a higher wage to fill them.

    If you pay the new hire more than your other worker are making, you risk damaging employee morale. You could of course give them a raise too, but you would probably get fired yourself if you did.

    So it's a stalemate, a market failure.

  133. Whom did you work for? A company that needs workers to conduct or grow their business will deal with these issues in the best way they can, but they will hire rather than default on growth and enrich their competitors.

  134. Why aren't Baby Boomers mentioned who are retiring right now in droves? Also I know of many women choosing to stay home instead of working just to pay for high-cost childcare.

  135. A lot of people at prime working age are on drugs. Do we even hav any idea how many millions that is? And they're dying of overdoses every day.

    I bet that's where your muissing people are.

    It's a huge drag on the economy. On ERs. On the police and fire depts, that do most of the rescues.

  136. That is an important point. Without knowing changes in the rate of drug use among those outside the workforce, it's difficult to begin to assess viability for employment. Here is an excerpt from an LA Times article on changes in the construction industry in SoCal:

    "He said 90% of his employees are “good old redneck Americans” and the rest are immigrants. But in the last few years, Brown has had trouble hiring.

    Before the housing crisis he had more than 200 employees; that’s down to 100 today. Many of his people simply retired, Brown said, and his remaining workforce is aging. The average age of a construction worker in the country is nearly 43 today, up from 36 in 1985, according to federal data.

    Brown has had to turn a dozen applicants away, he said, “because they can’t pee in the bottle, they can’t pass a drug test” or “they may have had some bad luck or a criminal record [and] that’s a no-go for us.”"

    The criminal record is another thing. Employers face so much potential liability these days, they are extremely risk-averse in hiring. Decades ago a construction foreman or restaurant owner would size up an ex-con and decide to give him a job if he seemed steady. But now, it's just not worth the risk quite often.

  137. Oooh, a moment of accidental honesty from an economist...? Many everyday people (like my parents) who've been essentially locked out of the job market since the recession, don't need complex equations and years of scientific analysis to reach the conclusion that the economy has reached a "new equilibrium" and has ZERO NEED for a sizable number of us. Efficiency has gone up; fewer people are getting more and more done and a tiny number of highly efficient companies service the wants and needs of a GREAT MAJORITY of the country.

    The much higher percentage of people classified as "underemployed" (who can't pay basic bills despite working) or those who've been unable to get a job despite years of applications being ignored by employers who don't want or need them? THAT'S the **TRUE** "unemployment rate" but that's been downplayed at every turn for YEARS now.

    The companies are getting their profits and the people who can still afford to patronize them are getting what they pay for in pretty efficient fashion.

    Apparently everyone else can "eat cake."

  138. "Apparently everyone else can 'eat cake.'"

    Don't blame economists. They don't make policy. Look at who's in government, and who put them there.

  139. So what should follow from this nonsense is a feeling of well-being among the working types. Of course the reality is exactly the opposite. The rich keep flattening the pyramid and keep squeezing for more and more profits. Nobody should be surprised by this as these bloated pigs know nothing else.

  140. So we now have the perfect storm of reduced labor force participation driven by earlier retirments in an OpEx squeeze play and stagnant productivity now that we tweet more than we think. This coupled with a leader who: denigrates science, dangles infrastructure investment like a perk and not a critical national imperative, wants a big fat tax cut for himself and others in similar patrimonies, and aims to figuratively cut the legs off those who barely earn enough to survive. One solution might be an enlightened immigrant visa program, but fewer intelligent foreigners are willing to risk coming here and the available docs are lavished on cronies investing in his extended families' real estate ventures or provided to the seasonal help at Mar a Lago and his golf resorts.

    Mr. Trump, have you really "Won" anything yet, as even your election is now suspect? I'm getting tired of "so much winning" and hope that you soon join the ranks of the retired. Could it be that you're just waiting for a buyout?

  141. More work being available isn't going to get the nonemployed back into the labor market if it's the wrong sort of work. Somebody who used to work in a factory earning $30 an hour is probably not going to jump at the chance to earn $10 an hour in a service industry. You can have 500 of those jobs available, and he's still not going to do it. Even if somebody offers him $12 or maybe even $15.

    The other piece of the puzzle is that many of these nonemployed workers have gone onto disability...and once you do that, you don't go back. For all sorts of reasons, both economic and psychological, once you are on that train, it's the rare person that gets off.

  142. I'm not an expert on the disability benefits, but I think there is also a strong policy incentive to stay on disability once you qualify. It takes effort to qualify in the first place and you've stated that you have a disability that keeps you from working. If you then go back into the workforce, that signals that the claimed disability is no longer significant enough to be "disabled". But if that new job doesn't work out, then what do you do? You may have a really difficult time qualifying for disability again.

    There is probably a decent amount of under-the-table income ramping up due to the swollen disability rolls.

  143. Maybe a lot of the people who have left the labor force are now homeless and can't get hired by anyone. Surely, this should be considered so that we can do more to help these folks out.

  144. It's not going to get better. I know of two large employers, very stable companies in growing industries, that are looking to reduce head count, through either reductions in force or attrition. I think that companies are getting a glimpse the future, not loving what they're seeing, and are retrenching in preparation for something (I don't think anyone's sure what).

  145. I truly detest Trump as much, if not more, than anyone else, but the comments are hilarious, especially when you compare them to the comments that appeared on articles that celebrated President Obama's job growth. Each time someone made valid claims about underemployment not being reported or the jobs "not paying a living wage", they were heckled as evil Republicans and at the bottom of the comments when sorting by "Readers' Picks".

  146. Lots of highly partisan people in the comments. Partisanship causes all kinds of problems in cognition and reasoning.

  147. Casey you make gigantic generalizations on all people and then clap for yourself on your insight. Sorry but you are watching too much Fox News channel.

  148. K Henderson:
    1) Where are the "gigantic generalizations" in what Casey L. wrote? Perhaps it's where Casey writes "each time", when in fact it isn't strictly true each and every time?
    2) How were you able to know that Casey L. watches Fox News at all let alone "too much"?

  149. The irony reading this is that I lost my job today. So if the unemployment rises next month, it's my fault.

  150. "...where workers who want a job can find one fairly easily", yeah right, very poorly paid ones.

  151. Assuming what we are seeing now is full employment, that should mean a scarcity of labor in the market. As the supply of labor remain (roughly) constant while demand for labor (might) increase, we should see rising wages.

  152. This is exactly where the NYT should be earning its keep rather than publishing another retread of a known story. If you put a little effort into it, you go through the BLS site and get answers to most of the reader questions posed (adjustment for geography/metro area). Strangely, their version of "age" is over 16 versus over 20, but I have not looked too closely.

    In addition, each state collects these number to provide them to the BLS. And yet, the same reader questions are always posed when unemployment numbers are published. Why is someone at the NYT no filling in that gap? This column is accurate (i.e. on a simple matching basis, employers are supplying all of the jobs they think they need to meet the diminished purchasing power of consumers) but functionally useless as information.

    This has very real impacts on policy makers who are generally lazy. Would Democrats make the same proposals for addressing the difficulties of the labor force if they had nicely analyzed numbers in place of the over simplistic headlines? Who knows, but it seems worth a try.

  153. At the turn of the last century, President Teddy Roosevelt had to rein in "The Robber Barons", a group of wealthy capitalists who had amassed great fortunes through creating monopolies and other crooked dealings. Within twenty years of his leaving office, business and banking practices had become so lopsided and economically unhealthy that they brought on the Great Depression. The affect of this on working class Americans is made plain in the lyrics of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime." A new President Roosevelt developed government programs to put Americans back to work and brought in Social Security to keep older Americans out of the poor house.

    In the 1980s President Reagan's union busting and trickle down tax cuts put us back on track to wealth inequality and, in the nineties, Newt Gringrich established the K Street lobbyists partnership with Republicans to lock in control of the legislature by corporations and other big money interests.

    Now the working class can't find decent paying jobs while investment bankers and hedge funds rake in millions by shorting stock or bundling bad loans into financial instruments to sell at discount.

    Wake up and smell the corruption. There's something rotten again in the Capitalist/Capital connection.

  154. I note uninformed opinions such as Flak Catcher and perhaps the writer of this blog as well. Take note the U6 has been declining and declining faster under Trump. I hope someone on this blog knows what the U6 is because that should have been a part of the article if the author wanted to voice an educated opinion.

  155. The problem, for a very long time now, is wages, not jobs. As so many others have stated, very few discouraged workers, especially those with no more than a high school degree, will be enticed into the job market by minimum wage jobs. Additionally, many low wage jobs do not offer fringe benefits, further discouraging workers who have been physically and mentally beaten down by the invisible hand of capitalism. The answer is clearly higher wages and proper retraining, so younger workers can move into areas that are hiring and paying living wages. The problem is less clear for older workers. At this point, the government should offer unemployed workers within five years of retirement some type of early retirement plan with medical coverage, similar to Medicaid. Yes it will cost money, but it will save money (and dignity) in the long run, and perhaps dissipate some of the anger expressed by this group.

  156. There are some explanations for the fact that the ratio of 25-54-year-olds fell from 80% and is continuing to fall. Underlying it is the reality that not everyone needs to work to survive. If my spouse has a job with adequate pay and benefits, I may not feel the need to take a job that isn't rewarding in either satisfaction or pay.
    If I am the parent of small children, it might not pay me to go outside the home. The cost of child care and the diminishing quality of family life may just not be worth it. If aged or ailing family or friends need care, electing to provide that care might just be the most rational decision.
    Another factor is that there may be a disconnect between where jobs may be and where those workers are living. It is not always easy, nor beneficial to pull up stakes and move to a new job. Even for a nearby job, lack of transportation can create a barrier.
    Some people are excluded from many jobs because they have a history of being incarcerated or use drugs. There may be other reasons for people being excluded. Discrimination is no longer legal, but it happens.
    There's also the underground economy where people work off the books. I don't know if that gets factored in to the jobs statistics.

  157. It is enlightening to read the individual stories in these comments.

    On a macro level, I believe we are in the painful throes of a major structural shift in the global economy. We are entering a post-industrial era, and it is not entirely clear what the next generation economy is, and what the jobs are and will be.

    The last time we saw such a tectonic shift was the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy in the 19th century. Today, we look back at the good union factory jobs of the 1960s. One person with a high school diploma could support a family with a good middle class income. But we must not forget that the early days of the industrial economy were not so bright. The factory jobs of the 19th century were brutal and dangerous, and the pay was closer to indentured servitude. "I owe my soul to the company store." It took a century of progress (thanks in part to unions and regulations) to transform the industrial economy into a positive engine for middle class jobs and social mobility.

    Today we stand at a similar precipice. We see the low-paying service sector jobs with no benefits, the 1099 "gig" economy, etc. We need to find ways to transform these sub-optimal jobs of today -- as well as other emerging forms of work I haven't considered here, into well-paying careers of the future.

    Making widgets on an assembly line is not inherently more valuable than serving the needs of other people.

  158. Raise the minimum wage.

  159. Real wages are barely above the 1972 real wage mark. U-6 unemployment is 9.4%. There has been a steady climb in wages, but it is too little too late. The U-1 figure of 2.0% is almost useless. Labor markets are in a grim position as discretionary income is at a low not seen since the 70's.

  160. And if everyone is already working there is no room to expand the income tax paying working population. We already know corporate taxes are not going up and the rich are not going to be taxed more. If more money is needed for Trump's military and other plans the money is going to come from taxes on the workers. And if there is not going to be an expansion in the work force that will mean we will all be paying more.

  161. I think there needs to be more analysis and attention given to underemployment, which is the position many of my peers find themselves in-- having advanced college degrees from reputable universities, yet finding themselves babysitting, petsitting, tutoring, etc. to make ends meet because there aren't enough jobs available for their specific skillset and competition is so stiff. Many jobs in various fields aren't even posted publicly when they become available anymore; you only hear about them if you happen to already know someone in the field and they forward you an email or send you a text about it. Jobs are being filled before they even get made available to the public, and I know to an extent that has always been true, but I feel like it's happening more often now and in more and more industries, not just a handful. So even among those who get ticked in the "Employed" column aren't really employed in any meaningful sense of the word. They are not financially stable, and they are being crippled by college debt. Debt they accrued because they believed that a college degree would yield them a lucrative career, and said career has yet to manifest.

  162. I think that this group should also include people like part-time community college instructors who would love to teach full time, but instead (to balance the college budget) work retail on the weekends and during holidays/summers to keep going.

  163. The term '' full employment '' is a misnomer and will always be so.

    Full employment ( at least in my book ) is every able bodied person working for minimum 15$ an hour will full benefits, a pension etched in stone, paid family\sick leave and paid holidays every year that grows with seniority.

    Sort of like France.

  164. The labour force participation rate, currently 62.7% was 67.2 in 2001 , the year which Mr. Irvin refers too as the last time U3 was equally low.

    At a population of around 310 million, this drop of 4.5% translates to 14 million LESS Americans were at work now

    How come ?

    The reason is simple, but escapes Mr. Irwin; The jobs now offered, are far less attractive compared to the jobs in 2001 there were 17 million well paying manufacturing jobs in the US. Now there are 12 million. But this is not the end of the story. Well paying manufacturing jobs ($ 25 per hour) have higher distributive effects (economic lingo for higher spending by those well paid) than retail jobs, that pay $ 10.30 per hour.

    Let it put me very simply: The labour participation rate measures the attractiveness of the job market.

    And the attractiveness as decreased since 2001, in a significant amount due to outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to low wage countries lavishly praised by leading economists, such as Dr. Krugman



  165. Clearly you do not realize that majority of lost manufacturing jobs are not outsourced for cheap labor, but the manufacturing jobs are disappearing due to an increase in machinery. Why pay a worker in Mexico to do a job when you can have a machine that does it 10 times faster and for free?

  166. Good question, but it answers itself. Huge corporations are building new factories in Mexico and other similar labor markets as of today. People are doing those jobs, they are not being automated. Automation does have an effect, but that doesn't take away from the effect of cheap labor. It's a talking point used by corporate America to defend trade deals that unfairly punish American workers.

  167. There is a real shortage of workers in NH in many industries, which pushes down productivity and economic output. Companies want to hire, but they can't fill positions. One might suggest raising pay to attract workers, but that apparently is not happening en masse.

  168. Usually, when there is a shortage of workers, employers raise wages to attract them, (supply and demand right?) but I know a lot of employers who are in NH and MA who have such tight margins with their competitors, that if they raise wages anymore, their profits would vanish... so they try to squeeze more out of the workers they have: 50 hour weeks with no overtime, etc. The current economy works well for the wealthy, large corporations, and the investor class, all of whom insulate themselves from the raging competitive storm of the marketplace as much as they can, but for the rest of us, it does feel like a race to the bottom.

  169. Government policies that decrease the marginal bebefit of employment for unskilled labor have changed since 2001. People will generally make rational choices, and when government policies and programs reduce the marginal benefit of a $15/hr job, many people will rationally opt out. There are plenty of case studies to support this:


  170. I dream of a $15/hr job. Most of what I can get through staffing agencies and pounding the pavement here in NYC is $10 or $11 an hour or less. I'm 39 years old and I have spotty work history because of some mental health issues and a few years off to raise my son, btw. The difference between 10 and 15 an hour is, to me, the difference between a $100K and $150K/yr to the upper middle class. I think you are right, though, that $15 an hour is only of marginal benefit if one can qualify for government assistance, which not everyone who struggles can... The bureaucracy of getting assistance is quite overwhelming, nearly impenetrable if you are not "in the system" (i.e. living in public housing, in contact with social workers, etc.) or have someone who understands the system advocating for you. I just don't know what to do. I have thought of training for a new career where I have the possibility of making $15 an hour or more after a few years of employment, like an allied health technician, but I fear spending the money only to be unemployable. Most "entry level" jobs for radiology techs or nuclear medical techs, for example, pay $12 an hour and require 2 years experience, and on top of that... I know that it is difficult to be hired in your forties. I really do feel like giving up. Every day I think about killing myself.

  171. There are 94 million americans out of the work force. Many have just given up looking. Do not look at the 4.3% and think everything is great. So many out of work and they have been taken off the unemployed rolls.

  172. The fundamental question we all need to ask and answer is "why are these 94 million folks out of the workforce?" I know it isn't a simple answer -- but can we at least determine if it lack of existing opportunities, or lack of appropriate skill sets needed to fill existing opportunities?" Once we crack that (or at least get close to cracking) we can address accordingly.

  173. You are forgetting that the unemployment rate is only out of those in the work force (who active want/seek a job). 4.3% is perfectly acceptable and is even considered great by most economists

  174. I didn't leave the labor force. I was kicked out for being "too old". Maybe it was that I wouldn't do "Saki bombs" with the bros. Maybe it was because I would stand up at the end of a 1 hour software design session and express it in a couple lines of algebraic group theory, and further reduce the whole problem to something that could be explained in 5 minutes.

    American business ignores vast resources of knowledge and skill, just because we have grey hair, and don't look "that hot" in jeans.

  175. Here's an interesting angle that only just occurred to me: internships. While some internships have always been unpaid, others that used to pay (however poorly) have become unpaid in recent years. Young people still flock to them, hoping that they will one day become paying jobs, but they seldom do. Meanwhile, what your average intern actually does seems to be increasing in importance and complexity, such that they are really more like assistants-- but no one wants to call them that, because if they did, they'd have to start paying them! Why don't we start paying interns again, and make sure we're not only giving internships to students who are mostly living off of their trust funds anyway? Let's try giving paid internships to actual grown-ups who need the money (and who will probably be better at the job, anyway, because it won't be their first, and because they have more riding on it than their trust-funded counterparts).

  176. It is appalling that there are people in this country working full time who cannot afford to support themselves, let alone a family. It is appalling that full-time employees of companies like Wal-Mart (among many others) are routinely eligible for government benefits due to low pay (effectively a form of corporate welfare). It is appalling that over half of Americans do not have $500 in savings, and are one unexpected bill or missed paycheck away from being destitute.

    We need wage inflation. Real wages have been flat for nearly 20 years now.

    Early on, Henry Ford decided to raise the pay of his workers so that they could afford to buy the cars they were producing.

    If companies do not voluntarily start to bring up wages for the working poor, then voters will eventually force them to with increases to the federal minimum wage.

  177. I hope you're right. But the last time we came close to wage inflation, our worst Fed Reserve Chairman ever, Alan Greenspan, quickly quashed it.

  178. There are plenty of job opportunities available. Unfortunately, most are part time because the employer does not have to offer health benefits, retirement plans, or vacation time. Most are paying a wage that makes it very difficult for a person to survive.

    We hear so much these days about discrimination against blacks, hispanics, gays, and other groups but for some reason the media in America are turning a blind eye to the folks being most discriminated against.....those 50 years of age and older.

    They will never publicly admit it but the human resources department of most medium to large businesses in our nation will never hire a man or woman older than 50. The only exceptions are convenience stores or supermarkets that pay barely above the minimum wage.

    The opiod addiction crisis and the number of suicides, which hit record levels last year, will get worse as long as American businesses are allowed to devalue older workers.

    Unless you're applying for a job in construction, the police or fire department,
    there is no excuse whatsoever to refuse to hire someone who is 50 years of age or older but it is happening every single day and sadly no one cares, except of course the experienced worker who has so much to contribute but is looked upon as undersireable by American businesses.

    Some will celebrate the low unemployment rate but it has come at the expense of folks who need work, have much to contribute, and are being denied the opportunity to make a difference.

  179. The official unemployment rate is one variable in the equation. What about capacity utilization? And there is consumer spending.

    We may be at technical full-employment but if there is lots of unused capacity, and consumer spending is flat or down that simply says that the economy is stagnant.

    Of course we can all be assured that once the wealthiest install that bigger bucket and fill it up to overflowing the benefits of concentrated wealth will indeed "trickle down" to the rest of us.

    Concentrated wealth means that wealth doesn't move/flow through the economy. But we've all be taught to believe that concentrated wealth in the hands of the "right people" will bring largess to everyone - once that larger bucket is filled to overflowing but maybe to be replaced by an even bigger bucket.

  180. There is a huge portion of our economy that is off the books, meaning underground. My brother is 64, and works a part time job (on the books), but does several odd jobs (off the books). Thereby keeping his reported annual earnings low to qualify for cheap health insurance here in Massachusetts. He also qualifies for other public support. He lives very well, and he tells me that most of his friends are also on this piecing together both on the books and off the books employment while trying to qualify for public support for health insurance in particular. BTW, my brother owns his own home mortgage free. The unemployment numbers do not capture the millions who are working off the books, and this is a much bigger part of our economy today. Also, people are bartering more today. I have a friend that has free room and board in exchange for some light care taking duties. We now live in this new share - barter economy that is not being captured.

  181. You are absolutely right about this. This is widespread, although economists have very limited data on it.

  182. Doesn't matter, those jobs are not included in the job statistics, because they cannot be graphed, and they are not part of the economy because they are not measured in GDP. Besides your brother doesn't even fall in this category because as you said, he already has a job "on the books"

  183. First rule, I never trust anything the government tells me.

    G. Carlin.

  184. Better the Government than the CEO!

  185. "Better the Government than the CEO..." The difference being?

  186. Is the reason that unemployment (% of people looking for work) so low, while non-participation (% of people w/o jobs and not looking) is so high, because the new normal for what constitutes a "job" is so undesirable? How many of those not participating in the job market used to have what used to constitute "job" (status, solid salary, routine 40 hour week, set schedule, sick days, vacation, benefits, health care, etc) and simply don't want to serve the current corporate mindset of what a job should be like? The corporations killed the unions, but a whole segment of the population independently, but in unison, went on a wildcat strike. Make jobs what they used to be and see how many of those non-participants come back. Or better yet, stop throwing the resumes of 40 and 50 something year olds that know how to do the jobs in the trash and hoping that 20 something year olds that magically already have experience and know how will walk through the door and be productive from day one because you don't want to train in house or have paid internships (so passe`). "Economics" (as a pseudo-science) operates on all these presumptions of "rational" actors, but this analysis fully fails to consider that corporations are in the final phases of their war to wipe out unions and worker expectations, and don't want all those sidelined workers with their old expectations even if they could make some money off them now; they are looking down the line to their dream of serfdom for all.

  187. The two most important, realistic goals for the Democratic Agenda, 2018-2020:
    Medicare for ALL. Self -explanatory.
    Increase the Federal, National Minimum Wage. Increase to 12.00 per hour, starting on Jan. 01, 2019. Incremental steps, every 6 to 12 months, until Jan. 01, 2023. National Federal Minimum Wage at that time will be 15.00 per hour. Individual states and/ or Cities are allowed to increase the minimum. No states are allowed to decrease the minimum.

    Enough of the corporate welfare. These Minimums would give people a chance to lead better lives, and the taxpayers would not have to subsidize the greedy cheapskates. The above two goals are drastically needed, and much desired by voters. Work together, do the right thing.

  188. Imagine how the economy would take off if we had universal, less expensive, healthcare like modern, moral countries. Business booms without the shackles of providing healthcare. We would still have to tackle the challenges of automation.

  189. Out of a US population of more than 320 million, in 2016, about 123.76 million people were employed on a full-time basis. So somewhat over a third of all Americans are working full time. That's the figure that matters. Not the official (U3) US unemployment rate — or even any of the other five national unemployment rates published by the US government.


    Further, the six measures (U1- U6) of the US national unemployment rates, and the national number in full-time work, are just the overall rates.

    Burrow down into different age groups, ethnicities, towns and cities, and the proportion of the local populace employed varied full time varies tremendously. This is what the NYT should be covering in detail, not the national unemployment rate overall.

  190. I retired towards the end of 2015. I simply ran the numbers and found out I would net more each month retired rather than working. Years earlier my wife thought about working for one of the attractions in Central Florida. After childcare cost, transportation cost and taxes which btw were at my marginal rate I would of been subsidizing the business for them to hire my wife. We have not ran out of workers. Just cheap workers. Guys this is not rocket science. If you want more work raise the wage.

  191. Agree, jobs don't appeal for the money offered. I'm on the sidelines too. Just don't care. Work when I force to. And keep having mediocre to disappointing experiences. Why keep banging my head against a wall?

  192. Two questions economists keep ducking:

    1) Would IT jobs fill faster and more fairly in this country -- with native-born Americans of all descriptions -- if we put racial and economic justice into our public school systems?
    2) Can they separate -- as employers have done -- the question of work from the question of pay?

    And here are two parallel requests for the media:
    1) Could you folks quit relying on this outdated and meaningless statistic, replacing it with the monthly median income for an individual worker?
    2) Could you folks please separate out the number of people stacking part-time jobs from the number with real full-time, fully-compensated career positions?

  193. The conclusion one can apparently draw from this article is that the economy will never reach the point where the many workers over 50 (or 40) who were purged from payrolls to "unlock shareholder value" during the Great Recession will become employable. This is as good as it gets. And our elected officials will continue to ignore all those discarded people, who are too old to hire but too young to retire, because the corporations who threw them all in the dumpster are important campaign donors. That's what "democracy" means in the 21st century.

    I guess it's time for all those unwanted former workers to recognize there is no place for them in an American economy that wants only the youngest, cheapest, and most obedient human robots for its disposable workforce, and dutifully head for the nearest landfill to molder quietly out of sight.

  194. HMMM, "...the millions of people who left the labor force in the aftermath of the 2008 recession..."

    Who is paying or giving these people how much? How much, if anything do these people cast the Federal, State and Municipal tax payers.

    Then again are they bartering their wages, working for free?

    Perhaps it will be less expensive to all tax payers to just let it be as it is.

  195. 54, master's degree, loads of tech skills. Navy vet. Unemployed more than a year.