Saturday, October 9, 2010

Male Employment Population Ratio Going Sideways

September employment numbers came out yesterday.  I like to track the male employment-population ratio (one of the few things that Calculated Risk doesn't) because, in my version of the Protestant work ethic (not that I'm Protestant, but I was brought up that way dammit, well you get the idea), if all was well with the world, men of productive age ought to be doing something productive.  In the distant past (at least through the early 1960s) this was true - except during a recession and the immediate recovery, the male employment population/ratio was around 95% (for men age 25-54):

Clearly, there are always going to be some people between jobs, going back to college as mature students, etc, so 100% is not to be expected.  95% sounds pretty good.  However, with the beginning of the loss of manufacturing jobs to Asian competition, it began to decline, until now it hovers just above 80%.  I think this represents a big problem, and one that is not necessarily clear in the unemployment rate.  In a country that doesn't have long-term unemployment benefits, once benefits run out people are going to have to find an alternative way to survive.  Whether that's crime (or the resulting jail time), living off a partner's earnings, filing a dubious disability claim, etc, they are not going to show up on the unemployment rolls.

The most recent numbers show that the brief recovery of late 2009 and 2010 is over (now that the growth effects of ARRA are mostly over) and we are pretty much treading water.

Not so good.


Guillermo said...

I appreciate the point you are making, but I do wonder how many people were working until an unnecessarily late age in the past due to:

a.) a lack of options (the not-so-dubious disability claims)

b.) a lack of savings--a 55yr old worker now would have been beginning to save in 1980, just in time for the great 80s/90s equity rally and would have been slowly moving into bonds in the last 10 years (capturing the end of the 30-year bond market rally, so there might be some decent savings)

c.) having the opportunity to / job security! I am not one of the "structural unemployment" doomsayers, but the reality is that many people near retirement age will have a harder time finding jobs due to outdated skills, being laid-off from companies that will rehire younger, cheaper labor / temps and run-of-the-mill age discrimination.

Guillermo said...

i just realized i didn't get across what I wanted to say clearly. What I wanted to be my final point is that I'm not naive enough to think that the lowering employment rate in this segment is a sign of improving quality of life and less necessity to work, but I do think that part of it is related to that a 52-year-old may now have the resources / options (dubious disability included) to have the ability to forgo picking up a menial job just to scrape some income together. Between expanded unemployment benefits, potential savings and an increase in government programs, it might not be worth the stress to pick up certain comparatively lower-paying jobs just for the sake of picking up a few dollars.