The Corner

‘A Labor Market Stuck In The Mud’

The Grumpy Economist’s John Cochrane points to a striking chart from the Wall Street Journal. Here it is:

It’s from a piece from Ed Lazear called “The Hidden Jobless Disaster.” Here’s a tidbit:

Every time the unemployment rate changes, analysts and reporters try to determine whether unemployment changed because more people were actually working or because people simply dropped out of the labor market entirely… The employment rate—that is, the employment-to-population ratio—eliminates this issue by going straight to the bottom line, measuring the proportion of potential workers who are actually working. 

While the unemployment rate has fallen over the past 3½ years, the employment-to-population ratio has stayed almost constant at about 58.5%, well below the prerecession peak. Jobs are always being created and destroyed, and the net number of jobs over the last 3½ years has increased. But so too has the size of the working-age population. Job growth has been just slightly better than what it takes to keep the employed proportion of the working-age population constant. That’s why jobs still seem so scarce. 

The U.S. is not getting back many of the jobs that were lost during the recession. At the present slow pace of job growth, it will require more than a decade to get back to full employment defined by prerecession standards….

Why have so many workers dropped out of the labor force and stopped actively seeking work? Partly this is due to sluggish economic growth. But research by the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has suggested that because government benefits are lost when income rises, some people forgo poor jobs in lieu of government benefits—unemployment insurance, food stamps and disability benefits among the most obvious. The disability rolls have grown by 13% and the number receiving food stamps by 39% since 2009.

In other words, until now labor-force participation would increase as unemployment decreased, and government benefits may amplify this trend. Nobel laureate Ed Prescott’s research seems to suggest the same, even though he looks at the question of labor supply and incentive to work in a different context. In his famous 2004 paper “Why Do Americans Work So Much More Than Europeans?,” he shows that workers spend considerably more hours working when marginal tax rates on their incomes are lower. So basically, over time people reduce the number of hours they work, economic growth slows down, and less revenue is collected. But Prescott’s other big insight, as Garett Jones explained in this piece, is that a generous redistributive system makes it easier to reduce one’s labor supply. Jones writes:

Here’s the Wisdom of Prescott: If the government raises the tax rate on you and all of your friends, and then divides up all the tax revenue and dumps it from a helicopter, what do you get?  Well, none of the money gets wasted, so the tax hike doesn’t have a direct income effect (there’s a small indirect one I’ll ignore here). 

If the tax hike is used for pure redistribution from the “average person” back to the “average person,” then the tax hike doesn’t make the “average person” poorer: The government is taking money out of everyone’s right pocket and slipping it into their left.  
But if the income effect is gone, what’s left?  The disincentive to work: The pure substitution effect. 
Jones’s entire post is well worth reading, and so is Cochrane’s piece.
 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Most Popular

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More