Monday, March 7, 2011
My preferred employment indicator is the employment/population ratio for working aged men (here age 25-54). The most recent data (including the point for February released on Friday) is shown above, on a graph since 2000, showing the two most recent recessions, and one recovery between them, along with the sluggish sort-of-recovery since the great recession. The last data point is pretty good, however, adding to the evidence that the US economy, at least, is starting to recover more strongly.
Here's the long term picture for that series (since 1948) for the context:
I take this long-term trend to be due a mixture of globalization, technological unemployment as we gradually approach the economic singularity, and displacement of men from the workforce by women. We are now down to the point where almost 1 in 5 working aged men don't work.
I don't focus on male employment/population because I think women's employment is less important, but rather because it's less easy to interpret due to the major move of women into the workforce in the twentieth century. Here's the long term picture for the equivalent female ratio:
You can see that from before the 1940s until the 1990s, working age women (also mothering-age women) were increasingly choosing to work. It rather looks now as though that ratio has peaked and is declining. Whether this is because women are starting to focus on raising children more again, or due to the same economic and technological forces that are affecting men, I can't say. I have some anecdotal experience suggesting the former is happening, but probably the latter is important too.
At any rate, here is the shorter-term picture for women: