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Cyclical versus secular: decomposing the recent decline in U.S. labor force participation

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Author Info

  • Michelle L. Barnes
  • Fabià Gumbau-Brisa
  • Giovanni P. Olivei

Abstract

Since the start of the Great Recession, one of the most striking developments in the U.S. labor market has been the pronounced decline in the labor force participation rate. The crucial issue in interpreting the decline in U.S. labor force participation is how much of the decline reflects cyclical factors and how much reflects more persistent developments such as the demographic effects of an aging population. We provide a decomposition of cyclical versus trend movements in the labor force participation rate, informed by the joint dynamics of this variable with the employment-to-population ratio. We find that since 2008 trend movements account for a significant portion of the decline in labor force participation. The cyclical response of the labor force participation rate over most of the Great Recession and ensuing recovery has been smaller than usual given the estimated cyclical behavior of the employment-to-population ratio. If the cyclical behavior of the labor force participation rate had followed historical norms, the unemployment rate over the period 2009–2011 would have been lower on average by roughly three-quarters of one percentage point. At this point, however, the unemployment rate should provide a fairly accurate signal of labor market conditions and further cyclical declines in labor force participation rates are unlikely to occur if the employment situation continues to improve.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its journal Public Policy Brief.

Volume (Year): (2013)
Issue (Month): ()
Pages:

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbpb:y:2013:n:13-2

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Related research

Keywords: Unemployment ; Labor market;

References

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  1. Willem Van Zandweghe, 2012. "Interpreting the recent decline in labor force participation," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q I, pages 5-34.
  2. Beveridge, Stephen & Nelson, Charles R., 1981. "A new approach to decomposition of economic time series into permanent and transitory components with particular attention to measurement of the `business cycle'," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 151-174.
  3. Danny Quah, 1991. "The Relative Importance of Permanent and Transitory Components: Identification and Some Theoretical Bounds," FMG Discussion Papers dp126, Financial Markets Group.
  4. Farber, Henry & Valletta, Robert G., 2013. "Do Extended Unemployment Benefits Lengthen Unemployment Spells? Evidence from Recent Cycles in the U.S. Labor Market," IZA Discussion Papers 7347, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Henry S. Farber & Robert G. Valletta, 2013. "Do extended unemployment benefits lengthen unemployment spells? evidence from recent cycles in the U.S. labor market," Working Paper Series 2013-09, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  6. Henry S. Farber & Robert G. Valletta, 2013. "Do Extended Unemployment Benefits Lengthen Unemployment Spells? Evidence from Recent Cycles in the U.S. Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 19048, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Daniel Aaronson & Jonathan Davis & Luojia Hu, 2012. "Explaining the decline in the U.S. labor force participation rate," Chicago Fed Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Mar.
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