Here’s What the Labor Market Really Looks Like

There’s not a whole lot going on today, so here’s another chart about the economy for you. It shows the percentage of prime working-age adults who have jobs:

Over the previous two economic cycles (1990-2000 and 2000-2008), this number averaged 79.8 percent. Today it’s 78.7 percent. So we still have some ground to make up just to reach the average of past cycles. At the top of the cycle, we ought to be around 81 percent or so.

One of the problems with this statistic is that it can fluctuate depending on how many young workers go to college and how many older workers are retiring. As the baby boomers retire, for example, we should expect the overall ratio to drop steadily. This is why it’s best to look only at 25-54 year-olds. These are the folks who are out of school and aren’t retired, so they provide a pretty good look at how the labor market is doing.

When you put this together with sluggish wage growth for middle-income workers, it shows that we still have some slack in the labor market even though the headline unemployment rate is a very healthy 4.3 percent. At the rate things are improving, we ought to have another three years of expansion left before the economy tops out. But will we?

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate