Skip to main content
The FRED® Blog

Posts tagged with: "LNS17800000"

View this series on FRED

The recent evolution of labor force participation

Small movements from a lot of labor market churn

Since the early 2000s, labor force participation has been declining in the U.S. After peaking at 67.3 percent in March of 2000, the labor force participation rate declined consistently to 62.4 percent in September 2015 and has since flattened out. The first graph shows the period of decline in the labor force participation rate, which started in early 2000, flattened out in mid-2005, and then declined again from the onset of the Great Recession to 2015.

Several variables in FRED can illustrate the labor force dynamics at play behind the declining labor force participation rate. The next graph shows the annual change in the labor force (employment plus unemployment). While the labor force has mostly been increasing since 2000, it has not been increasing fast enough to keep up with population growth. Starting in 2014, however, the pace of growth in the labor force picked up, which led to the flattening out of the participation rate.

The last graph shows monthly flows into (red line) and out of (blue line) the labor force. These gross flows are very close to each other, with the net changes (green line) always close to zero. It is the net changes that explain the evolution of aggregate labor force participation. From 2009 to 2016, the positive values are not enough to offset the more negative values and more people flowed out of the labor force. More recently, however, the positive contributions more than offset the negative values, leading to an increase in participation. Despite this recent evolution, the graph does not seem to point to any particular new trend that’s different from the past. This suggests that more research is needed to understand the observed decline in the participation rate.

How these graphs were created:
Graph 1: Search for “Labor Force Participation.” Graph the first result and limit the date range from 2000 to current.
Graph 2: Search for “Unemployment.” Graph the series titled “Unemployment Level.” From the Edit Graph tab, type “Employment Level” in the customize data section search box. Click the series titled “Civilian Employment Level” and then click Add. Finally, type a+b in the formula box and change the units to “Change, Thousands of Persons.”
Graph 3: Search for “Labor Force Flows.” Graph the series titled “Labor Force Flows Employed to Not in Labor Force.” Repeat the process outlined in Graph 2 to modify the line by adding “Labor Force Flows Unemployed to Not in Labor Force” to the graphed series. Now, select the middle menu and search for “Labor Force Flows Not in Labor Force to Unemployed” and add this series as a new line. Repeat the process to modify the line by adding “Labor Force Flows Not in Labor Force to Employed.” Once again, use the middle menu to add “Labor Force Flows Not in Labor Force to Employed” as a new line and then modify the line by adding the remaining three flows as additional series on the new line. Use the letters assigned to each series to calculate the difference of the sum of those flowing into the labor force less those flowing out of the labor force (e.g., consider (a+b)-(c+d)).

Suggested by Maximiliano Dvorkin and Hannah Shell.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CE16OV, CIVPART, LNS17200000, LNS17600000, LNS17800000, LNS17900000, UNEMPLOY

How labor market flows changed

After the most recent recession, the volume of workers switching their employment status from unemployment to non-participation (that is, not in the labor force) and vice versa increased dramatically, reaching levels not seen in the previous two recessions.

The first graph shows the flows from non-participation into unemployment (NU) and from employment into unemployment (EU), both normalized by population. In the past, these two flows closely tracked each other and the contribution of both non-participation and employment to unemployment was roughly equal. However, in the Great Recession, the contribution to unemployment from both series increased significantly, with the contribution of non-participation becoming substantially larger, peaking far above the EU flow and taking a much longer time to return to lower levels.

The second graph shows the flows of workers that have switched from employment and non-participation into unemployment as a fraction of total population. We can see that the flows from employment to non-participation (EN) have decreased in the past recession, a behavior in line with previous episodes. The flows from unemployment into non-participation (UN) show a much stronger response, increasing to historically high levels after 2008.

The fact that both UN and NU flows are larger than usual, but of a roughly similar magnitude, implies that the labor market has become more dynamic on that margin. The levels of labor market variables (employment, unemployment, and non-participation) are very sensitive to the dynamics of labor market flows. Therefore, understanding the causes for the recent evolution of the UN and NU flows is central to understanding the dynamics of labor market variables in the past recession.

How these graph were created: Go to the labor force status flows category. For the first graph, find the flow called “Labor Force Flows Employed to Unemployed” and graph the seasonally adjusted values. Select the “Graph” tab and scroll down to the “Add Data Series” option. In the keywords box, search for “Labor flows,” scroll down to “Labor Force Flows Not in Labor Force to Unemployed,” and add the series as a new data series. Select the “Add Data Series” option again and search in the keyword box for “Civilian population.” Select the first series and add the data under the “Modify existing series option” for data series 1 and 2. Now, select “Edit Data Series.” Under the “Create your own data transformation” option, type the formula a/b and click “Apply.” Do this for each data series. Finally, restrict the time period to 1990 through 2014. To make the second graph, repeat this process but this time select the flows “Employed to Not in the Labor Force” and “Unemployed to Not in the Labor Force.”

Suggested by Maxiliano Dvorkin and Hannah Shell

View on FRED, series used in this post: CNP16OV, LNS17400000, LNS17600000, LNS17800000, LNS17900000


Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Back to Top