Here are some graphs of our nearby employment history, from Express Employment Professionals, a 30-year-old provider of professionals for temporary employment.
This first graph shows the labor force participation rate since its peak in 2007.
This second graph shows the unemployment rate over the same time period.
There are two items of interest in these two graphs. The first is that although participation rate was starting to drift down from its early 2007 peak, it didn’t get going in earnest until late summer 2008—with the unemployment rate peaking just a few months later.
The other takeaway is that the unemployment rate began drifting back down from that peak, and fairly steadily so, in concert with the labor participation rate drop-off. While the unemployment rate has fallen by roughly 2.5 per centage points, the labor force participation rate (the denominator of the unemployment fraction) has also fallen by almost 2.5 per centage points.
Folks just aren’t able to get back to work. More than 4 million Americans have been out of work for more than 6 months, and that number hasn’t shrunk much over these last 4, and more, years.
What kinds of jobs are being had? Americans working part-time workers for economic reasons (they would work full-time if they could, but full-time work isn’t available) numbered some 8.2 million as recently as last July. That’s “only” some 5.5% of those employed that month, but so far this year, there have been nearly 4.5 part-time jobs created for every full-time job. Last year, that ratio was reversed: 0.2 part-time jobs were created for every full-time job.
We have to think about whether this is a structural change to our work environment and our labor force composition, or whether this is “just” an aspect of the continuing failed economic recovery.