walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Labor Force Participation Rate

I sure seem to read about that phrase a lot. And yet I'm chronically irritated by the people who are talking about it, regardless of their political orientation, or whether they are Keynsian or something else. I'm starting to understand better _why_ I am so annoyed.

Do I think that it should be possible for people who want to work for pay to be able to find rewarding work for good pay? Of course I do. Duh. I may be tactless, but come on.

With that out of the way, I'd like to point out a few things that appear to be escaping the notice of people who want to "fix" the decline in the labor force participation rate. First, there have been some secular (ongoing, independent of business cycle, blah, blah, bleeping, blah) trends in the fraction of each age/gender cohort which works for pay. More women work for pay than when I was a young'un. Fewer men work for pay than when I was a young'un. But they still haven't met in the middle and _I_ think the world won't be equal meaningfully as long as they haven't. You may feel otherwise.

People who are not working for pay fall into several obvious and a few in-obvious categories: students (labor force participation starts at 16 -- we apparently _want_ very low participation rates in 16-2x year olds, while they finish high school, attend additional schooling whether vocational or academic, blah, blah, bleeping, blah), prisoners (altho I suspect more of them are participating than we maybe realize, but Let's Not Go There Right Now), retired (isn't that what we all hope people can do when they reach A Certain Age? Ideally before), too sick/disabled to work. Less obvious are caretakers (of small children, sick/disabled/elderly), and other people Doing the Work of The Home -- which could well include someone who isn't caretaking for a toddler or an aging diabetic relative, but rather cooking, cleaning and maintaining a home for someone who is out there raking in the Big Bucks; or someone who is doing unpaid volunteer and/or activist work alternating with a person who is not making Big Bucks, but they've come up with a lifestyle that works for them and this reflects their basic values. Etc.

Over the course of the 20th century, women's labor force participation rate rose and men's fell, especially after WW2. It was possible to net reduce the number of people Doing the Work of the Home (including caretaking) because there were so many adult, able-bodied people relative to the number of people requiring care to be provided. This ratio existed because generation A had big families and then generation B did not, also generation C was institutionalized from 5-18 and we were also institutionalizing a lot of other people who required a great deal of attention and thus monetizing (creating jobs out of) their care rather than have them at home. We've gone a long ways down the de-institutionalization path, and that has an impact on whether the people who love those who need care can hold down for-pay-outside-the-home jobs.

Are there people who want jobs but don't have them? Yes. And some of their families are eating the cooking of those people, and putting up with their idea of cleaning and other Work of the Home, rather than hiring that all done with their pay if they _did_ have a job. I actually value the Work of the Home (if you haven't figured that out, you _really_ haven't been reading this blog). I don't see someone working at home as the end of the world, unless the lack of money coming in the door causes the home to be lost -- that _is_ bad. But if there's still enough cash in the door, then I'm a lot less concerned, and a lot more focused on making sure everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

The respect and dignity thing is important. One of the reasons it was so important for women to increase their workforce participation rate was because they _were not_ getting respect and dignity.

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