The Anatomy of Slow Recovery

BERKELEY – Between 1950 and 1990 – the days of old-fashioned inflation-fighting downturns engineered by the United States Federal Reserve – America’s post-recession unemployment rate would fall on average 32.4% over the course of a year from its initial value toward its natural rate. If the US unemployment rate had started to follow such a path after peaking in the second half of 2009, it would now stand at 8.3%, rather than 8.9%.

Unfortunately, none of the net reduction in the US unemployment rate over the past year came from increases in the employment-to-population ratio; all of it came from declining labor-force participation. Unemployment has fallen from 10.1% over the course of the past 18 months, but the employment-to-population ratio has remained stuck at 58.4%. Perhaps it would be better if unemployed people who could have jobs – and who at full employment would have them – were actively looking for work rather than out of the labor force completely.