Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What's Happening to Labor Force Participation of Older Males?

An interesting article in Sunday's New York Times reports on a number of older (over 55) males who, having lost their jobs and, believing that the available jobs aren't worth it, have essentially withdrawn from the labor force. Reading it, I wondered whether what we have here is anecdote or data. So I looked at the labor force participation rate for men, ages 55 - 64. The most recent monthly data are for June 2006, and the Labor Force Participation Rate was 69.7%.

Now, that's lower than it used to be (the LFPR was 85.1% in June 1968, for example)--but it's higher than it's been since 1983, when the LFPR for this group was 70.4%. In fact, the LFPR (in June) for men ages 55 - 64 bottomed out in 1994, at 64.6% and has increased fairly steadily since. So maybe we've got anecdote here. But, on looking again at the article, it appears that the Times' reporters spoke to white men. So maybe this is a pehnomenon affecting white men, and not African-American men.

Well, apparently not. For white men ages 55 - 64, the June 2006 LFPR was 70.9%, its highest (June) level since 1982. For these men, the LFPR fell until 1994 (the same for all men)--to 65.5%, and since 1994, it has increased, albeit irregularly. But maybe this is a phenomenon confined to married men.

Again, apparently not. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't post a labor force participation rate for married, white men ages 55 - 64, it does post the size of the labor force. Now, the labor force for this group of men has been increasing fairly steadily since 1989, but that's been primarily a result of growing population in this age group. Recently, the number of married white men ages 55 - 64 in the labor force in June has been increasing by about 250,000 per year, and the increase between June 2005 and June 2006 (up 285,000--more than the 276,000 increase from 2004 to 2005, or the 223,000 increase from 2003 to 2004) is in line with the recent past. Or maybe they should have been talking to African-American men.

Probably not. The June LFPR for African-American men ages 55 - 64 is below its recent peak (June 2005, at 60.6%), but the June 2006 LFPR (58.8%) is higher than any other year since (again) 1994 (59.9%). For African-American men ages 55 - 64, the LFPR bottomed out in June 1999 (at 51.4%) and has increased pretty steadily ever since. Well, what about Hispanics?

Ah, no. The LFPR for Hispanic Males, ages 55 - 64, was 70.3%, just below its June 2005 recent peak of 70.5%, but higher than any other year since 1998.

So it's an interesting article, and the stories about the individuals are compelling. But, right now, it looks like anecdote to me.


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