Since the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has experienced low real GDP growth and low real interest rates, including for long maturities. We show that these developments were largely predictable by calibrating an overlapping-generation model with a rich demographic structure to observed and projected changes in U.S. population, family composition, life expectancy, and labor market activity. The model accounts for a 1 ¼ percentage-point decline in both real GDP growth and the equilibrium real interest rate since 1980, essentially all of the permanent declines in those variables according to some estimates. The model also implies that these declines were especially pronounced over the past decade or so because of demographic factors most-directly associated with the post-war baby boom and the passing of the information technology boom. Our results further suggest that real GDP growth and real interest rates will remain low in coming decades, consistent with the U.S. economy having reached a “new normal.”
We explore a number of reasons for the declines in geographic and labor market transitions, and find the strongest support for explanations related to a decrease in the net benefit to changing employers. Our preferred interpretation is that the distribution of relevant outside offers has shifted in a way that has made labor market transitions, and thus geographic transitions, less desirable to workers.
It has been well documented that the share of the working-age population employed in “middle-skill” occupations has been falling for some time, while the share in lower- and higher-skill jobs has been rising–i.e. “polarization” of the labor market (e.g. Autor 2010). However, the dynamics and related mechanism behind these employment trends are not fully understood; nor is it well understood what happens to workers who are displaced from middle-skill jobs.