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Increasing Propensity of People to Not Work In Three Pictures

Employment population ratios have plunged for workers under the age of 60. What's going on?
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Population and Employment Aug 2000 vs Aug 2021


I downloaded data on employment and population from the BLS repository. Age 60+ is a summation of age group 60-64 plus 65 and older. Some data is seasonally-adjusted when available. The BLS is not consistent on providing the same options for every data series. Seasonal variations make little difference in year-over-year and decade-over-decade comparisons. 

Key Findings

  • The population gage 16 and older increased by 48.695 million but employment only rose by 16.492 million.
  • Of the 48.695 million increase in population, 33.012 million was in age group 60 and over.  
  • The population of those age 16-59 rose by 25.789 million but employment actually shrank by 153,000.
  • Meanwhile, employment in age group 60 and over increased by 16.645 million, over 100% of the total employment increase.
  • The population in the core working age group 25-54 rose by 5.244 million while employment barely rose by 302,000. 

Cumulative Year-Over-Year Net Changes

Cumulative Year-Over-Year Net Changes 2021-08

Chart Notes

  • The date index reads January but the data is a year-over-year cumulative net reflection of August vs the August in the previous year. 
  • The chart is color coded: Compare dark blue to light blue, dark green to light green, dark yellow to light yellow, and red to orange.
  • The darker colors in each series are employment and the lighter ones population.

Key Findings 

  • The impact of two recessions on employment is clearly visible in all age groups except age group 60 and over (dark green). 
  • The huge increase in population of that age group (33.012 million as per the first chart) overpowered the impact two recessions had on other age groups.

Employment Population Ratios 

Employment Population Ratios 2021-08
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Employment population ratios are a measure of the number of people employed divided by the population of that age group.

The EPRs also show the impact of two recessions on all but age group 60 and over. 

The EPR for age group 60+ peaked in 2011. It will continue to decline as boomer get older and eventually retire. By 2030 every boomer will be of retirement age.  

Propensity of People to Not Work

The above demographic explanations aside, there still appears to be a big voluntary propensity of those age 25-54 to not work. 

The population of that age group rose by 5.244 million while employment barely rose by 302,000. 

Meanwhile, millions of open leisure and hospitality jobs go unfilled. 

In a demographically-related post please see Peak Boomers: Baby Boomers' Percent of Labor Force and Influence Has Peaked

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