Saturday, January 21, 2017

Weekly Indicators for January 16 - 20 at

 - by New Deal democrat

My Weekly Indicators post is up at

Consumer spending measures have really softened. Two of the three I track are almost certainly affected by online purchases vs. brick and mortar.  But not Gallup's poll of consumers, which also has turned soft. It's at least a valid concern whether this is a reflection of gas prices finally affecting real wage growth enough to begin to bite.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The labor force participation rate vs. the unemployment rate

 - by New Deal democrat

This is the third of four installments looking at whether and by how much people get drawn into the labor force as economic expansions progress.  This is part of a broader look at how close we might be to "full employment."

In the first installment, I showed that if we norm for the long term secular trends, both men's and women's participation in the labor force does go up during economic expansions; i.e., as the economy improves, more and more people who aren't interested in working decide that they do want a job.

In the second installment, I showed that wage growth appears to have very little if any value in forecasting or even correlating with increased labor force participation.  If anything, the correlation appears to run the other way:  increased labor force participation correlates with lower real wages at least over the longer term, but not in any consistent way.

Now let's take a look at whether tightness in the labor market as shown by the unemployment rate correlates with an increase in labor force participation.  Because the U-3 rate has a much longer history than the broader U-6 underemployment rate, that is what I am using.  Note also that for purposes of scale (this will be important later) I am dividing the YoY change in the unemployment rate by 4.

Here is the YoY% change in labor force participation for men, +0.3% to norm for the secular declining trend, compared with the unemployment rate (inverted so that a decrease in the rate shows as an increase in the graph). I've split this up into three time series better to show the relationship.  First, here is 1950-64:



In the 1950s, there is no discernible correlation.  But beginning in the 1960s, and all the way up until the present, there does appear to be a significant correlation between a decrease in the unemployment rate and an increase in men's participation in the labor force.

Now here is women's participation, -0.3% through the 1990s to norm for the secular trend of their entry into the labor force during that time.  First, here is 1950-1965:



With the exceptions of the late 1950s-early 1960s, and the recovery since the Great Recession, once again there does appear to be a significant correlation between a decrease in the unemployment rate and an increase in women's participation in the labor force (but note the poor relatinship in the present expansion, which will be dealt with in the last installment).

Remember that I told you to keep the division of the YoY change in the unemployment rate by 4 in mind?  That's because the above graphs suggest that, although it is a very noisy relationship, a back of the envelope estimate is that for every 1% change in the unemployment rate, there is a .25% change in the labor force participation rate for both men and women.

Not only is there a significant correlation between the unemployment rate and labor force participation, but it appears from the above graphs that the unemployment rate *leads* labor force participation by 1-2 years.  This is also shown  when we compare the difference in the YoY change in the two: 

Compared with trend, the LFPR outperforms later in the expansion as the unemployment rate flattens and then begins to rise, while it under performs relative to trend when the unemployment rate begins to turn down early in a recovery.

In the last few months, the unemployment rate has declined to new lows.  That suggests that in the next 12-24 months, the LFPR will increase compared with trend.  If the unemployment rate were to decline another 1% to 3.5%, thereafter we should expect roughly another +.25% YoY increase in the LFPR compared with trend, which translates into a very slight nominal increase.

But this relationship, while important, isn't the end of the story.  Because we still have the issue of retiring Boomers, and we still have the fact that women's labor force participation barely budged for 6 years after the end of the Great Recession.  A year ago I wrote a series on the "child care cost crush." So in the final installment, I will take a look at these issues.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

December housing permits report: good news

 - by New Deal democrat

The December housing permits report this morning portends good news for the economy in 2017 for several reasons.

This post is up over at

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gas prices push inflation above Fed target

 - by New Deal democrat

Looks like we are shortly going to find out whether 2% inflation is the Fed's "target," or whether it is really a ceiling.  My bet is on ceiling.

Why? Both headline and core YoY inflation are already above 2% as of this morning's December report.

My fuller discussion of the implications for 2017 is up at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Bank of England May be Facing Inflation in the Near Future

This is over at

Real wage growth vs. labor force participation

 - by New Deal democrat

This is the second of four installments looking at whether and by how much people who are out of the labor force decide to seek employment as an economic expansion continues.  This is part of a broader issue of how close we are to full employment.

In the first installment, I showed that once we separate labor force participation into men and women, then we see two separate but equally stable long term trends.  Men's participation has declilned at a fairly steady -0.3% YoY over the long term, while women's participation increased by about +0.5% YoY over from 1955 to the late 1990s.  Once we account for that secular trend, in both cases we find that within any given business *cycle,* both men's and women's participation has increased compared with that trend as the economy improves, and deteriorates compared with the long term trend during and around recessions.

In short, as an economy improves, people are drawn off the sidelines into the labor pool.

In this installment, I'll look at whether this increase in participation correlates with real wage growth.

Once again, I'll separate men's and women's participation.  Here is the YoY% change in men's participation, +0.3%, compare with the YoY% change in real wage growth (green) from 1955 to the present:

There is no particular correlation. In particular if anything real wage growth and  participation go in  opposite directions during the early 1970s, almost all of the 1980s, the mid 2000s and around the end of the Great Recession. 

Here is the same graph for women, first subtracting -0.5% YoY from 1955 through the late 1990s:

and with no adjustment YoY thereafter:

Once again, it is hard to see any definitive relationship. Throughout the 1970s, and again in the later 1990s, there is almost an inverse relationship, although since about 2002 there may be some broad and noisy convergence.

If anything, over the long term there may be a slight correlation between an increase in labor force participation and decreasing real wages! 

The above graph shows the overall age 25-54 participation rate for both sexes, inverted (so an increase in participation shows up as a decrease on the graph) compared with real wages. Note that the period showing the biggest jump in participation (the 1970s) showed the biggest YoY declines in real wages, while the periods with the biggest declines in participation (the several years after each of the last 3 recessions) coincide with the subsequent recoveries showing the biggest real wage gains. 

So, the hypothesis that, as real wages improve, more and more people will be drawn into the labor force is tenuous at best. If anything, the relationship may be the opposite, and causation run the other way. In any event, surprisingly watching real wages does not appear to give us any insight as to what may happen with labor force participation. 

In the next  installment,  I will look at the relationship between labor force participation and the unemployment rate.