Workers Really Are Dropping Out of the Job Market


SpaceShoe [Learning to live with the crisis] / Foter

A new poll of unemployed Americans finds that almost half of them have given up looking for a job. That casts a depressing light on the debate over why the labor force participation rate has rolled downhill in recent years. Folks saying the economy isn't as sucky as it looks claim that demographic changes—especially an aging population—drive the plunge. Others say the job market is sluggish at best and that people are just giving up. The poll lends support for that depressing second bunch—and maybe for the idea that some job seekers need a nudge.

The April poll of 1,500 unemployed, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals, finds some not-so-encouraging results:

  • 47 percent agree with the statement, "I've completely given up on looking for a job." (7 percent said they "agree completely," 7 percent "agree a lot," 15 percent "agree somewhat," and 18 percent "agree a little.")
  • 46 percent report not having gone on any job interviews in the prior month. Among those unemployed for more than two years, 71 percent report not having gone on any interviews in the prior month.
  • 23 percent say their last interview was in 2012 or before.
  • 60 percent say looking for work has been harder than expected. 10 percent say it's been easier than expected.

In recent years, the Labor Force Participation Rate nosedived from above 66 percent of the potential workforce to below 63 percent, which is the lowest level since 1978. This has engendered much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth—and the public debate mentioned above about "why."

Labor Force Participation
Bureau of Labor Statistics

An aging work force gets some of the "credit" for the drop. Americans age and retire and there are relatively fewer young workers to take their place. A report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, published earlier this year, attributed about two-thirds of the decline since 2000 to a combination of retirement and disability, with a surge in retiring Baby Boomers over the past couple of years. (Disturbingly, "the number of disabled persons has been steadily rising.")*

But the report found that discouraged workers, with a big increase in that category during the recession, explained 30 percent of declining labor force participation. In addition, "nonparticipation due to schooling has been steadily increasing," which could well reflect another form of dropping out, as potential workers continue along or return to the education track after taking a look at the job market.

The poll does raise some concerns over whether all turned-off job seekers are willing to go the extra mile to find a paying gig. Forty-four percent are not willing to change towns in search of work, and 60 percent won't cross a state line.

That might have something to do with the 72 percent who call unemployment compensation a "cushion" and the 48 percent who say they "haven't had to look for work as hard" because of it.

Or maybe they just think things are lousy all over.

*H/T: Sarcasmic

NEXT: Andy Levy, on his V.A. care: 'It was absolutely awful, and nothing horrible I hear about it ever surprises me'

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  1. 47 percent agree with the statement, “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job.” (7 percent said they “agree completely,” 7 percent “agree a lot,” 15 percent “agree somewhat,” and 18 percent “agree a little.”)

    Vanneman is right. It makes little sense to ask someone if they somewhat agree that they’ve completely given up.

    1. That really stood out for me. The headlines are all about how 47% have given up, but if you only “agree a little” that you have given up, then you haven’t given up, you are just fristrated.

    2. Yes, I guess logic is hard for some people.

      The question “Do you agree that you’ve completely given up on looking for a job?” can only produce a binary answer: yes or no.

      This just immediately made me think that the people running the poll have no idea what they are doing. Or, it’s a push poll designed to produce an answer like “47% agree they’ve given up!”. Either way, they’re assholes.

  2. two-thirds of the decline since 2000 to a combination of retirement and disability

    These two figures need to be broken out. Disability and retirement are not equivalent.

    1. Especially given the dramatic number of bogus disability claims out there.

      1. Yeah, disability claims have skyrocketed since the recession started. Unemployment would be significantly higher if not for disability fraud.

      2. An old HS friend of mine went on disability for “anxiety” issues. He used to be a manager – retail stuff – and has had several other jobs with responsibility before.

        Now he lives in a condo that his parents bought for him, lives on disability, and sits around watching movies and listening to his expensive stereo.

    2. No kidding. “Disability” has become “permanent unemployment benefits” for a lot of people.

    3. These two figures need to be broken out. Disability and retirement are not equivalent.

      Disability often fosters early retirement.

  3. I’ve tried to escape my joke of a job, but haven’t had any luck. Employers want someone who can hit the ground running. No training at all. Of the hundreds of resumes I sent out I might have gotten five replies and two interviews. They want the perfect candidate. I’ve seen some positions advertised for years because they’re waiting for the perfect person to apply.

    1. …”I’ve seen some positions advertised for years because they’re waiting for the perfect person to apply.”

      If that’s true, they really aren’t looking for anyone.

      1. Oh they are or they wouldn’t be interviewing. They want someone who has experience in certain obscure technologies and are unwilling to train.

        1. au contraire.

          They have a staff of corporate recruiters they have to pay anyway. Keeping them looking for staff costs them nothing. They want to have binders full of applicants, to coin a phrase, for their troubles.

          1. The one in particular that I’m thinking of is a small company. Like a half dozen coders and one owner/manager. They’re just waiting for the perfect person.

            1. I can’t see a specific demand lasting long enough to make that true out side of manual labor.
              Everything else changes enough so that a skill needed now is going to be different than the skill needed 6 months from now.

              1. In software maintenance particular skill set is needed for the life of the software, which could be a long time.

                1. Cobol still Lives


        2. Yes, especially in IT. And they don’t have to. All they need are a group of young, recent graduates who know the particular niche technology segments because they’re fresh off the turnip truck. Furthermore, they don’t need nor want broad IT experience because that’s not what they’re paying for- and aren’t willing to pay for it.

          I don’t begrudge these employers for it, it’s just the new reality. That’s why I’m considering leaving IT.

          1. I’m looking forward to the day when I can purge out all of my EDI, ERP, shell and awk scripts, and Progress programming out of my head. Some year… soon.

          2. It sounds like we need to pool together all of the unemployed/underemployed/frustrated IT people on this board and start a company that creates crypto-anarchist software solutions to make government unnecessary/irrelevant.

            Then all we would need is for Peter Thiel to fund it.

      2. The ‘pinpoint’ requirements have been a topic before, and leave a lot of older, experienced workers out in the cold *raises hand*.

        I started noticing this trend back in the early 2000s. We’re getting a large segment of what are termed “under-skilled and over-experienced” workers.

        1. Whenever I interview consultants, I’d take the overskilled older worker over the narrow specialist any say, because I can then generally point them at any given task in our environment and get something useful back, or at least a decent effort. I can’t understand the laser focus recruitment policy.

          1. *overgeneralized rather than overskilled might be more accurate.

            1. agreed. However, these young best & brightest often are neither. They passed a few tests and seek to be “around” work, but honestly have interest in producing value.

              They’ll get the experience once they generalize which unfortunately will diminish their street value while raising their true value.

              1. They’ll get the experience once they generalize which unfortunately will diminish their street value while raising their true value.

                Well said. Very well said.

          2. I can’t understand the laser focus recruitment policy.

            I think it comes from two places.

            One, all of these startups are looking to build a particular product, and get it off the ground fast. “Fast-moving, dynamic startup requires a candidate with 3 to 5 years of DCOM and COM+ development in a e-commerce environment. ”

            The other side is a lot of recruiting has been handed to HR departments. Back when I got into the business, the recruiting was handled by the department that needed the position. Now, I have to have some HR biddy not only select, but fucking INTERVIEW my candidate before I’m ever even allowed to know they applied. So, to help her out, I need to put very specific requirements in the job description, otherwise she doesn’t know the difference between someone applying for a networking job, a development job, or environmental services.

            1. So does that mean I should lie because some HR schlub will be reading my resume first and I can bullshit them easily? Then when I get to you I can turn on the honesty and actually try to sell myself?

              1. That’s actually a good question. Unfortunately, it would be a case-by-case basis.

                The only problem is, if you lie and then you get to the interview with the actual team you’ll be working with, it’s going to make you look bad if they actually needed those requirements.

                However, I can tell you that SOMEONE SOMEWHERE is lying about their job skills because some of the people that I’ve run into over the years… don’t even get me started.

                1. Of course they lie. I had one round of telephone interviews where a particular candidate, when asked about the experience he put on his resume, was clearly reading from articles on the first page of a google search. I didn’t ask what the technology was I asked what he’d done with it. (We didn’t call him again later).

    2. I’ve tried to escape my joke of a job

      What kind of joke?

      Is it like those commercials with the monkeys?


  4. Pretty sure if the gov’t would make it clear that unemployment benes are ending on X, there would be a whole lot of people seriously looking for employment.

    1. wha….incentives work?

  5. Why? Because they FUCKING CAN and still get paid! Welfare states, how do they work?!?

  6. Every fast food joint for 10 miles of me has a help wanted sign. These people can’t get a job or can’t get a job they want?

    1. Turnover in that industry is so high that most places never take down the sign. But you have to ask which is the more personally rational option – give up the handouts for a stressful, thankless job that pays less, or stay on the dole? I can’t really blame them as long as the crutch exists.

      1. Where’s the incentive to take a job when those forty hours only earn you twenty dollars more than collecting?

        1. Where’s the incentive to take a job when those forty hours only earn you twenty dollars more than collecting?

          Or, more accurately, where’s the incentive to take a job when those 30- hours get you less income than simply collecting.

          Especially considering the scheduling fast food places use makes having more than one 30- hour job difficult.

          1. “Or, more accurately, where’s the incentive to take a job when those 30- hours get you less income than simply collecting.”

            And that 30-hour job is a result of O-losi’s screw-up.

            1. It was already an issue, they just managed to make it even worse.

      2. Also don’t forget that just because they are hiring does not mean that they will hire just anyone. Fast Food places are not generally willing to hire someone with no fast food experience who earned $35k in their last job.

        I know that during the dot com crash when I was out of work for 20 out of 27 months I put in applications to every fast food place in 10 miles, never got so much as a call back and I actually had an interview for a Schwans delivery driver where the manager basically told me that he wasn’t going to hire me because he knew that I was just going to stay until I could find something in my field.

        1. I don’t doubt this is true in some cases. I’ve recently talked with a few just out of high school graduates that refused to apply for any type of food service industry. They just didn’t want to do that job. Not sure if they are in the stats in this poll but I wouldn’t be surprised.

          I tried to explain that there’s some value in showing that you can hold *any* job, no matter how icky. Demonstrating you can be relied on to show up on-time when scheduled, perform the task assigned for a year or so will help you get a better job next time.

          1. That sums up half the premise of This book which is an interesting read for anyone who hasn’t done fast food work.

          2. “Demonstrating you can be relied on to show up on-time when scheduled, perform the task assigned for a year or so will help you get a better job next time.”

            As someone who was involved in hiring multiple people in recent years who were right out of college/ grad school, I can attest this was very true in our thinking.

            We would get a lot of applicants with gaps between school. We would prefer relevant work experience in that time obviously, but given the state of the economy, it was understandable that many people had gaps and was not an immediate red flag.

            But if you did have a gap between school and your career path, we liked to see that you were doing something… anything with your time. Holding a retail job or something like that as opposed to doing nothing got you plus points in our screening process.

  7. “Those weren’t real jobs anyway.”

  8. Someone should point out to the American public* that the income tax is pretty devastating to the structurally unemployed.

    If it costs a company $50,000 a year to pay someone $40,000 a year in take home pay because of income taxes, then the government is artificially increasing the cost of hiring unemployed people by 20%!

    And the unemployed who never had any skills to begin with get it even worse. They may make less money, and hence have a lower percentage cost premium attributable to income taxes, but being less differentiated by way of skills, their jobs opportunities are much more sensitive to cost.

    *No point in explaining it to Obamabots. Like their president, they’re idiots, and as evidenced by the way they demonize poor people who can’t afford health insurance and sic the IRS on them with enthusiasm, they don’t actually give a shit about the problems of the poor.

    1. I was talking to a self-employed guy two days ago who says if he could hire a single employee it would make his business practically bankrupcy proof, but everytime he had tried it, he has ended up with a deadbeat that wipes out several years profits before he can unload the guy.

      1. Finding someone who will do your mundane work for you–as well as you would–is the self-employed man’s perennial fantasy!

        A lot of self-employed people have a hard time delegating.

        No one will ever do your job as well as you would do it yourself, and it’s really easy to destroy someone’s confidence, initiative, and ability to perform by micromanagement and refusing to delegate well.

        Some people are so competent and so intolerant of other people’s judgements and their own lack of control that they can never grow their business beyond the size it takes for them to make each and every important decision themselves.

        If his business would benefit more than enough to pay a decent salary, then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to find somebody.

        Chances are he just needs some better management skills. And I wouldn’t recommend going back to school. There are businesses that do management training for major corps–and take on individual students in those “seminars” as well.

        He should totally sign up for that.

        1. Some people are so competent and so intolerant of other people’s judgements and their own lack of control that they can never grow their business beyond the size it takes for them to make each and every important decision themselves.

          Holy shit, do you know my boss? This describes him perfectly.

        2. I’m a freelance designer who has worked with lots of self-employed or small business owner types and everything you said is true, except not always the “so competent” part. More like they are so in love with their competence that half the time they aren’t aware that they have any weaknesses. So they may have no design skills, but they think they do and they’re just “too busy” to do it themselves. But they’re not too busy to tell the designer that it would look better if all of the type used in their book was Papyrus.

    2. Don’t forget SS taxes, medicare, payroll taxes, etc, etc.
      And the regulatory nightmare making it much harder to start or expand new businesses. And the fact that more and more large companies are turning to rent seeking rather than satisfying consumers to make a profit.

      1. Yeah, there’s all that, too.

        The idea that we would have as many structurally unemployed people as we do–and not have a major tax/fee cuts?

        It’s morally unconscionable.

        These people are suffering needlessly.

      2. FUTA/SUTA’s a pain in the ass too what with knowing your experience rate and if your state’s a deadbeat to the feds.

      3. Don’t forget the employer healthcare mandate that will hit one of these years.

  9. Had lunch will a recent law school graduate trying to get his first job. Tough market for people outside big firms right now, even in Houston.

    1. Hasn’t it always been that way for lawyers?

      I’ve been reading about the oversupply of lawyers since the early ’90s.

      1. I’m too junior to know for sure, but my understanding is that it has been much worse in the last 5-7 years.

        But my firm and our peer firms in Texas/New York are slammed with work and (don’t tell the partners) overpay young lawyers to attract us to their firms or steal us away. It’s very have/have not, which is the same as a lot of the economy I guess.

        1. That’s funny, because my co-worker’s daughter just graduated CUNY Law School in Queens and his waiting for the NY Bar exam in July. No one wants to hire a 3.96 GPA graduate it seems.

          1. No idea what her individual situation is, but this illustrates helpfully a point many prospective law students (if any happen to read this) miss: DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL UNLESS YOU GET INTO A TOP 14 SCHOOL. Maybe dip down to Texas with a big scholarship.

          2. I wouldn’t.

            If a person happens to have a 3.96 GPA, okay. However, I wouldn’t hire anyone who is not acquainted with hard work. If you haven’t been a waiter or mowed lawns or stocked groceries or the like, keep on moving.

      2. The thing about lawyer is, if we didn’t have any, we wouldn’t need any.

        1. I’d believe you if I ever met a client who understood (or could even sit down and read in one sitting) the definitions section in a 200 page credit agreement. But please keep telling yourself that a libertarian society could function without professional writers and interpreters of contracts.

          1. It’s a joke 🙂

            I do realize there will always be a need for lawyers so long as there are 200 page credit agreements. Then again, the credit agreement runs to 200 pages of legalease in large part because of the tireless efforts of prior generations of lawyers.

            I defended the PA gay marriage decision in another thread by noting that enforcement of contracts is a core reason we tolerate government in the first place. No economy, libertarian or otherwise, would long survive without precise legal documents.

            1. I didn’t mean for it to sound snappy. Just teasing.

        2. That was the idea behind the original colonial settlers banning lawyers.

        3. Calvin, there’s an old saying:

          “A town too small for one lawyer is always big enough for two.”

    2. My wife is a recent law grad. After a few months of sending out resumes and only two interviews, she ended up going solo. It’s been a learning experience but after a few months of it the income is starting to trickle in…

      Of course she wouldn’t have been able to do this without me backstopping her – providing the rent money and all the other initial start up costs. Add in the student loan debt and I feel sorry for anyone who is a recent lawyer who doesn’t score a well-paying job.

      1. Good for her. If clients are already coming in she will get there in a few years.

        the student loan debt is a killer. I had a full scholarship, thankfully. Even on my salary it would be a struggle, and is for most of my friends.

        1. Yeah, I could be making the payments on another house or a realllly expensive luxury/sports car for the amount I’m shoveling out right now. Its been a crimp on my lifestyle, that’s for sure.

          1. Trust me, no you couldn’t. If your wife is anything like mine she would have many “better” ideas for what to do with that money.

  10. In recent years, the Labor Force Participation Rate nosedived from above 66 percent of the potential workforce to below 63 percent, which is the lowest level since 1978. This has engendered much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth?and the public debate mentioned above about “why.”

    This is one of the most un-talked about subjects, because I believe the reality is too scary, even for many in the liberal sector.

    It is my increasingly firm opinion that the reason for the overall long-term drop in workforce participation is that our government increasingly pays people to not work via what is essentially a long-term disability scam.

    The rise in ‘disabled persons’ (and what qualifies a person as disabled) has shot through the roof in the last decade allowing people with any other form of income available to essentially not have a job.

    Yes, workforce participation has dropped in the last few years because of a sucky economy, but that’s not the entire picture, and may only represent a shorter-term trend.

    1. NPR did an eye opening study on that.

      1. Yep, it’s been said right on these very here boardz that when NPR takes notice, you know you’ve got a problem.

    2. It is really the perfect welfare state program. You get a check for a pittance – enough to live on, but not enough to really ever be secure – and in exchange you promise to never work again and to never try to save for the future. Presto! Democrat voter for life!

      State governments, of course, pay call centers to sign people up and get them categorized as “disabled” by any means necessary – each signup means one less person receiving state welfare benefits.

  11. Romney should have put forth a jobs plan.

    1. No president should ever put forth a jobs plan.

      1. But they do. The sugar high of Keynesianism lasts about one full term.

    2. Palin’s Buttplug|5.22.14 @ 1:42PM|#
      “Romney should have put forth a jobs plan.”

      Yep. If he were close enough to Obo, you could be licking his ass, too.

  12. Some associated thoughts:

    This low participation rate also feeds into the “living wage” protests; with so many of the jobs that have been created being lower level service jobs, and the (perceived?) decline in wages. Also People aren’t willing to give up their tidbits of welfare for a low paying job.

    Perhaps this same fear also feeds into the Nativist (they took my jerb!) idea of increased immigration = a more competitive job market = less chance of said person getting a job. And if they do get one, perhaps at a lower pay rate.

    1. The other meme (beside ‘they took my jerb!) is that “there are jobs that Americans just won’t do”. Thus we need more more immigrants to satisfy these vacant jobs. But, curiously, there no moral hazards in having open borders.

      1. …well…there aren’t.

    2. That’s why I favor putting off immigration reform until the economy gets going again. The nativists today are to weak to keep a hold on the Texan government when Americans start feeling more secure they’ll be too weak to even slow anything.

      1. This is similar to Pat Buchanan’s proposal that we (the US, for you others) should wait until the unemployment rate drops below 5% before looking at immigration again.

        But this brings up another problem (to me alone here, maybe): how many people do the people of the US want to live here?

        Sorry little Elroy, on the combined income of your dad and mom (who didn’t always need a job) we can see the Grand Canyon when you’re 23 yo, in the prole line, for 1 minute.

  13. If you are desperate for a job and are okay with working extremely hard in tough conditions for a lot of money, the oil patch is for you. You’ll earn thousands in your first month out in Alberta.

    1. Those jobs aren’t as easy to get as you might think. Welding pipeline isn’t something you just show up and do one day. And even real roughneck shit often requires significant experience, especially in Alberta.

      And thousands a month sounds like a lot in Edmonton or South Dakota, until you realize how much prices of everything (especially rent) have been driven up by the boom.

      1. Even for totally unskilled labor, you will get THOUSANDS. Even with the increased cost of stuff you come out ahead as long as you don’t blow it on blow. On that note, if oil patch heavy work isn’t for you, then you can work in one of those service jobs that they have such a shortage of workers for. Easily 15-20 dollars an hour in Fort Mac if not more.

        1. My understanding is that floormen make about 30-40/hr in the Bakken. You generally work 60hrs/wk every other week. That’s only like 50k a year before taxes.

          That is probably a lot of money if you are the kind of person thinking about climbing drilling rigs, but it isn’t a ticket to riches either.

          1. I will say, however, that I worked on an offshore rig in the gulf during college and it was some of the best experience ever. Learned some basic trade-skills and got paid a decent wage.

            It also convinced me to stay in school, because manual labor sucks hard.

          2. 50k isn’t bad if you don’t live in a city and can avoid blowing it on blow and whores (which might be difficult in oil boom towns). It’s pretty close to the median household income in the US, isn’t it?

            1. We pay $0.52 (round-off to 50) cents per mile for a big-rig truck driver. There are 2000 full-time working hours in a year. 60 mph is 1 mile per minute (rounded off of from 55 mph).

              Let’s go…

              0.50 $/mile * 60 miles/ hour * 2000 hours/year = 60000 $/year. More or less.

              It probably less when all the bullshit comes due.

              Put me behind the wheel of big-rig and I’ll cause about $60k damage/minute doing my best getting it out of the parking lot.

    2. What if you are a lady? I’m not about to sack up and go be a roughneck where the male to female ratio is like 12:1. I’m sure some chicks are into that and I bet there’s a buck to be made somewhere.

      1. I’ve been to strip clubs near the oil patch in SD. Grim doesn’t begin to describe it.

      2. Whoring.

      3. Just be gay. How hard can it be?

  14. Unemployment is meaningless. Look at this instead:

    In 2000, 81.7% of Americans between their 25th and 55th birthdays were employed, with part time workers counted as fractionally employed. Today the rate is 76%. Between 2007 and 2012, 2.1M (1.9M) jobs disappeared in construction (manufacturing). We may not see 80% employment again in our lifetimes.

    It is well known that “disability” in many localities is a disguised welfare program for the long term unemployed over 40 years of age. The Ohios State labour economists Parsons pointed out in the 1980s that ever since disability was added to Social Security in 1956, there has been a steady decline in the labour force participation of men in their 40s and 50s.

    Gregory Clark at UC Davis has opined that OECD nations may simply have to accept that in this new century, 10-15% of adults will have to be supported by the public purse.

    Replace the taxes on personal incomes and corporate profits with a 30% tax on all value added by business. Then pay all legal residents of the USA $100/week. That plus food stamps and section 8 can abolish poverty in the USA.

  15. *H/T: Sarcasmic


  16. Block Insane Yomomma doesn’t give a flying rat’s crap about jobs or the American economy as a whole, unless they’re jobs for his cronies, or within very specific areas that he approves of, such as “green jobs”.

    Obamacare will go down as one of the biggest jobs killers in all of American history. This asshole and the lefties who support him will gladly destroy entire swathes of major industries and put thousands of people out of work without a moment’s hesitation or ounce of guilt.

    Just to give one example, the coal industry is squarely in the left’s sights, and has been since this jerk got into office. They’re itching to kill off this lucrative and enormously important industry, which some regions of the country largely depend on to survive, through impossible to meet regulations imposed by unaccountable bureaucrats.

  17. What happened in January 2008?

  18. At the age of 58 I was essentially out of work. Picked up some part time for 2-3 weeks at a time. Thankfully, I sold my house (in CT) for too much and downsized to a cheaper state and bought a foreclosure-the worst house in a good neighborhood. Took early SS and now am cruising. Screw the policies that kill jobs and incentives. I am fixing my house and will make money on that. . On my own terms. Government is still hindering my progress with energy incentives and lackadaisical building inspectors. Oofah!

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