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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Research: Labor force participation rate expected to stay flat through 2015

by Calculated Risk on 7/18/2013 07:58:00 PM

I've written frequently about the participation rate (the percent of the civilian noninstitutional population in the labor force). A few posts: Understanding the Decline in the Participation Rate, Update: Further Discussion on Labor Force Participation Rate, Merrill Lynch on Labor Force Participation Rate, Labor Force Participation Rate Research

The participation rate was expected to decline for structural reasons even before the great recession started (baby boomers retiring, younger Americans staying in school longer, etc.). A key question is how much of the recent decline in the participation rate was due to long term trends, and how much was cyclical (economic weakness)?

Here is some research from Macroeconomic Advisers: Where’s Labor Force Participation Heading?

• Fifty-five percent of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to structural factors that, on balance, will continue to exert downward pressure on participation through 2015.

• The other forty-five percent is cyclical and will gradually abate. However, the cyclical decline in participation has been larger and more persistent than in past cycles due to the unusually large increase in the average duration of unemployment during this cyclical episode.

• Going forward, the cyclical rebound in participation will roughly offset the continuing downward push of structural forces. Consequently, we project that in 2015, when the FOMC will be contemplating the first increase in the federal funds rate, the participation rate will be 63.4%, the same as in the second quarter of this year.

That projection for the participation rate implies that monthly changes in household employment averaging about 114,000 will be sufficient to stabilize the unemployment rate through 2015. Anything faster will push the unemployment rate down. To reach the FOMC’s threshold unemployment rate of 6.5% in the second quarter of 2015, as shown in our forecast, requires monthly changes in household employment averaging roughly 170,000 over the next 24 months, consistent with our forecast that monthly changes in establishment employment will average roughly 190,000 over that same period.
CR Note: A significant portion of the decline in the unemployment rate from 10.0% in October 2009 to 7.6% in June 2013 was related to a decline in the participation rate from 65.0% in Oct 2009 to 63.5% in June 2013. If the participation rate had held steady, the unemployment rate would be 9.7% (assuming an increase in the participation rate with the same employment level).

Now the participation rate is forecast to mostly move sideways - or maybe even increase a little in the short term - so we probably shouldn't expect a decline in the participation rate to help push down the unemployment rate over the next year or two. Instead, and decline in the unemployment rate will probably because of an increase in employment.

Longer term the participation rate will probably continue to decline until 2030 or 2040. I expect the rate to fall from the current 63.4% to around 60% in 2030 based on recent trends and demographics.