Participation Rates: Yes—Men and Women Are Different
Men and women have changed over time with respect to their involvement in the workforce. As illustrated in the top graph, the patterns of male and female participation in the workforce are different, with male participation higher. Yet, there are some developments since the past recession that bear watching. Male participation has been on the decline for decades, but note that since 2008, the trajectory of the decline has sharpened. For women, participation rates had been rising until about 2000, but then steadied before turning down in 2009. The decline in participation among both men and women present two challenges for the labor market. First, if there is a loss of highly skilled workers, like the anecdotes we hear about the aging engineering and scientific workforce, where are we going to get replacements? Second, do declining participation rates mean that potential GDP will be more limited going forward than in the past?
Teenage Unemployment: Different Across Race and Ethnicity
Another structural issue in the labor market can be seen by the high rates of teenage unemployment. Teenagers, as the least experienced workers in the economy, traditionally face higher unemployment rates than the overall population. Yet unemployment even among teenagers varies widely, as evidenced by the jobless rates between teenagers of different races and ethnicities (middle chart). The sharp jump in teenage unemployment among Hispanic and African-American workers during this economic cycle highlights two points. First, unemployment rose more severely for these groups than white teens. Second, the gap between Hispanic and white teen unemployment remains notably wider than when the recession began. As teenage employment has been linked to higher earnings later in life, continued high unemployment for teenagers—particularly Hispanics and African Americans—is worrisome for acquiring well-needed basic skills.
Unemployment Rates by Occupation: They Differ Too
Two patterns stick out when we review the experience of unemployment rates by occupation (bottom graph). First, there is a cyclical pattern for all occupations, with construction and production occupations the most susceptible to business cycle fluctuations, as one might expect. Second, while some occupations are more tied to the business cycle, unemployment for all occupations remains higher than prior to the recession, illustrating that the employment outlook for all types of workers remains weak more than three years into the recovery. In addition, one suspects that the decline in the unemployment rate for construction workers, and to lesser extent production workers, has been aided by a drop in the participation rates for those workers. Thus, the labor market has an even longer way to improve than these unemployment rates would suggest.