Who's working depends on where you look
One critical element for the growth of an economy is an active working-age population: Growth can be hampered when (i) the overall population is aging and a larger share of the population is retired or (ii) a larger share of the working-age population simply isn’t working. The graph above shows, for four countries, the share of the population that’s 25 to 54 years of age—i.e., prime working age—with a job. The remainder of that population is either unemployed or not looking for a job.
This graph reveals some stark contrasts. Japan and the U.K. show steady increases, which helps counter the effects of their aging populations, a condition that’s of particular concern in Japan. Spain shows a very rapid increase, which demonstrates that such a statistic need not move in a sluggish way. The U.S., however, shows no significant movement in the 1990s and a decline since then. We know this isn’t due to an increase in unemployment, which is at its lowest rate in a long time.
To be fair, the increases in other countries are partly due to increases in women’s labor force participation. The U.S. experienced a surge in women’s participation much earlier and has apparently reached its plateau. Much of the decrease in U.S. labor force activity, as it turns out, has to do with men: Even a quick look at the graph below shows the steady decline in their activity. Understanding why this is happening is a topic of much current investigation.
How these graphs were created: For the first, search for “Participation Rate” and then use the sidebar to narrow down the choices. Then select the desired series (annual, in our case) and click on “Add to Graph.” For the second, searching for “United States Participation Rate” gives your the right options. Choose the annual series again, and click on “Add to Graph.”
Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.