The unemployment puzzle: Where have all the workers gone?

The unemployment puzzle: Where have all the workers gone?

A big puzzle looms over the U.S. economy: Friday’s jobs report tells us that the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7% from a peak of 10% at the height of the Great Recession. But at the same time, only 63.2% of Americans 16 or older are participating in the labor force, which, while up a bit in March, is down substantially since 2000. As recently as the late 1990s, the U.S. was a nation in which employment, job creation and labor force participation went hand in hand. That is no longer the case.

What’s going on? Think of the labor market as a spring bash you’ve been throwing with great success for many years. You’ve sent out the invitations again, but this time the response is much less enthusiastic than at the same point in previous years.

One possibility is that you just need to beat the bushes more, using reminders of past fun as “stimulus” to get people’s attention. Another possibility is that interest has shifted away from your big party to other activities.

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