Very interesting analysis on the Not in Labor Force cohort from Bloomberg Briefs:
In an economic cycle which has consistently been sluggish — from the overall pace of growth to wage pressures to inflation — the decline in the unemployment rate in the past several years has been truly impressive. Still, falling participation and rising wage inflation may be the more pressing labor trends for policy makers to watch.
After peaking at 10 percent in late 2009, the unemployment rate began a downtrend that has accelerated as the economy approaches full employment. As of March, the jobless rate was 5.5 percent, or 1.1 percentage points lower than a year ago. Barring the past few years, this pace of improvement has not been witnessed since the economy surged out of the deep recession of 1981-82, which was also the last time unemployment rose above 10 percent. In that period, real GDP grew in the vicinity of 8 percent, almost triple the current pace of 2.7 percent (both measures are the year-on-year percentage change of the four-quarter moving average).
The current decline in unemployment is much less impressive because of the concurrent fall in labor force participation (the sum of those who are employed or actively seeking employment as a share of the population). If potential workers become frustrated with the job search and stop actively looking, unemployment can fall for the wrong reasons as the participation rate also drops. This overstates the degree of improvement in the labor market. As a result, the trajectory of the participation rate will materially affect how policy makers interpret the unemployment rate’s approach toward 5 percent.
* snip *
The rest is at Bloomberg Briefs (subscription)