12/01/2021

News

The Labor Force Participation Rate Trend and Its Projections

A labor force participation rate that is at or above its long-run trend is consistent with a labor market at or above full employment. In 2018, the estimated rate is at its trend of 62.8%, suggesting that the labor market is at full employment. Studying the population’s demographic makeup and labor trends for different groups […]

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Why Aren’t U.S. Workers Working?

Labor force participation among U.S. men and women ages 25 to 54 has been declining for nearly 20 years, a stark contrast with rising participation in Canada over this period. Three-fourths of the difference between the two countries can be explained by the growing gap in labor force attachment of women. A key factor is […]

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The Prime-Age Workforce and Labor Market Polarization

U.S. labor force participation by people in their prime working years fell substantially during the Great Recession, and it remains depressed despite some recovery since 2015. This appears to reflect longer-term developments, rather than lingering effects from the recession. One key factor is labor market polarization—manifested in the gradual disappearance of manual jobs—which helps predict […]

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The Disappointing Recovery in U.S. Output after 2009

U.S. output has expanded only slowly since the recession trough in 2009, counter to normal expectations of a rapid cyclical recovery. Removing cyclical effects reveals that the deep recession was superimposed on a sharply slowing trend in underlying growth. The slowing trend reflects two factors: slow growth of innovation and declining labor force participation. Both […]

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Disappointing Facts about the Black-White Wage Gap

More than half a century since the Civil Rights Act became law, U.S. workers continue to experience different levels of success depending on their race. Analysis using microdata on earnings shows that black men and women earn persistently lower wages compared with their white counterparts and that these gaps cannot be fully explained by differences in age, education, job type, or location. Especially troubling is the growing unexplained portion of the divergence in earnings for blacks relative to whites.

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How Tight Is the U.S. Labor Market?

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a very low level at the end of 2016, raising the question of whether the labor market has become too tight. After applying a new method to adjust for demographic changes in the labor force, the current unemployment rate is still 0.3 to 0.4 percentage point higher than at past labor market peaks. This indicates that the labor market may not be quite as tight as the headline unemployment rate suggests.

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What Is the New Normal for U.S. Growth?

Estimates suggest the new normal for U.S. GDP growth has dropped to between 1½ and 1¾%, noticeably slower than the typical postwar pace. The slowdown stems mainly from demographics and educational attainment. As baby boomers retire, employment growth shrinks. And educational attainment of the workforce has plateaued, reducing its contribution to productivity growth through labor quality. The GDP growth forecast assumes that, apart from these effects, the modest productivity growth is relatively “normal”—in line with its pace for most of the period since 1973.

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Changes in Labor Participation and Household Income

The percentage of people active in the labor force has dropped substantially over the past 15 years. Part of this decline appears to be the result of secular factors like the aging of the workforce. However, the participation rate among people in their prime working years—ages 25 to 54—has also fallen. Recent research suggests this decline among prime-age workers can be attributed in large part to lower participation from among the higher-income half of U.S. households.

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Reducing Poverty via Minimum Wages, Alternatives

Setting a higher minimum wage seems like a natural way to help lift families out of poverty. However, minimum wages target individual workers with low wages, rather than families with low incomes. As a result, a large share of the higher income from minimum wages flows to higher-income families. Other policies that directly address low family income, such as the earned income tax credit, are more effective at reducing poverty.

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The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment

It is easy to be confused about what effects minimum wages have on jobs for low-skilled workers. Researchers offer conflicting evidence on whether or not raising the minimum wage means fewer jobs for these workers. Some recent studies even suggest overall employment could be harmed. This Letter sheds light on the range of estimates and the different approaches in the research that might explain some of the conflicting results. It also presents some midrange estimates of the aggregate employment effects from recent minimum wage increases based on the research literature.

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The Stimulative Effect of Redistribution

Policymakers often consider temporarily redistributing income from rich to poor households to stimulate the economy. This is based in part on the idea that poor households spend a larger share of their income than rich ones do. However, ample evidence suggests that the difference in spending between these groups is significantly smaller than commonly assumed. A second assumption is that redistribution through policy is more efficient than through capital markets. Whether this is true is important to consider when proposing this type of stimulus policy.

Research & Studies
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Involuntary Part-Time Work: Here to Stay?

The incidence of involuntary part-time work surged during the Great Recession and has stayed unusually high during the recovery. This may reflect more labor market slack than is captured by the unemployment rate alone. Analysis across states and over time indicates that a substantial part of the increase is related to the business cycle. However, structural factors such as changes in industry composition, population demographics, and labor costs have also contributed. This suggests that involuntary part-time work may remain significantly above its pre-recession level as the labor market continues to recover.

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Higher Education, Wages, and Polarization

The earnings gap between people with a college degree and those with no education beyond high school has been growing since the late 1970s. Since 2000, however, the gap has grown more for those who have earned a post-graduate degree as well. The divergence between workers with college degrees and those with graduate degrees may be one manifestation of rising labor market polarization, which benefits those earning the highest and the lowest wages relatively more than those in the middle of the wage distribution.

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Why is Wage Growth So Slow?

Despite considerable improvement in the labor market, growth in wages continues to be disappointing. One reason is that many firms were unable to reduce wages during the recession, and they must now work off a stockpile of pent-up wage cuts. This pattern is evident nationwide and explains the variation in wage growth across industries. Industries that were least able to cut wages during the downturn and therefore accrued the most pent-up cuts have experienced relatively slower wage growth during the recovery.

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What’s Behind the Increase in Part-time Work?

Part-time work spiked during the recent recession and has stayed stubbornly high, raising concerns that elevated part-time employment represents a “new normal” in the labor market. However, recent movements and current levels of part-time work are largely within historical norms, despite increases for selected demographic groups, such as prime-age workers with a high-school degree or less. In that respect, the continued high incidence of part-time work likely reflects a slow labor market recovery and does not portend permanent changes in the proportion of part-time jobs.

Research & Studies
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