participation has changed along an understudied margin of labor supply. I find that “in-and-outs”—men who temporarily leave the labor force—represent a growing fraction of prime age men across multiple data sources and are responsible for roughly one third of the decline in the participation rate since 1977. In-and-outs take short, infrequent breaks out of the labor force in between jobs, but they are otherwise continuously attached to the labor force. Leading explanations for the growing share of permanent labor force dropouts, such as disability, do not apply to in-and-outs. Instead, reduced-form evidence and a structural model of household labor supply both indicate that the rise of in-and-outs reflects a shift in labor supply, largely due to the increasing earnings of men’s partners and the growth of men living with their parents.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen. My thoughts:
1. When we think of labor force participation declining, we think of, say, John Smith, deciding to never work again. What this paper is saying is that the statistics reflect something different. One month Smith takes a break, then next month he gets a job and Tom Jones takes a break.
2. I think we have always had a large number of workers who are not fully employed year round. That is, there have always been a lot of workers who take breaks between jobs. This is common in construction work, for example.
3. I don’t know if this matters for the phenomenon at hand, but we used to have inventory recessions. In those cases, workers would be out of a job for a while, but they would still be in the labor force, because they were waiting to be recalled by the firm that had laid them off.
4. It seems to me that this is an important paper. Re-read the last sentence in the quoted excerpt.