Work becomes optional

John Coglianese writes,

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.

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7 Responses to Work becomes optional

  1. collin says:

    I almost wonder if the real threat to conservatism is not optional work but optional family formation. Remember the best way to make a young person conservative is get them a career, wife and children. And that is slowing down and we will have to see if suburban America turns against Republicans especially with the current tax plan.

    Otherwise:

    1) We have not had a true ‘inventory’ in decades since the post-Volcker inflation Recession.

    2) I think the issue is the location of jobs versus inventory jobs. So we don’t see a whole lot of WV moving to California & Texas. Of the working class in Texas and California can both work at a low wage job and live in their parents basement giving them substantial advantages over non-residents.

    3) Again there probably good ideas increasing local vocational training but most it is terrible education and the private sector is not well engaged. How would you fix that?

    • Handle says:

      Right, that’s one of the top level threats. Politics is often downstream of one’s life situation and social scene / reference group. “Persuasion through deliberative discourse” is mostly a myth in modern democracy, and one gets much more bang for one’s buck by trying to raise the number of “natural” voters on one’s own side. Though it is of course taboo to explicitly admit this to be one’s primary purpose, and so one has to couch it in terms of furthering other socially desirable values.

      Even putting aside the issue of Brechtian strategic demographic shaping, holding the identiy group of analysis constant, there will still be some effort to either encourage or discourage traditional adult development and the lifestyle transitions that accompany passing milestones on the traditional life script.

      On the conservative side (especially the ‘Reform Conservatives’) a lot of effort is continuously applied into advocating for policies that would encourage (i.e., subsidize) earlier marriage and procreation, while removing subsidies for singles, since adults who are married with children tend to be much more likely to vote Republican.

      The progressives tend to favor the opposite policies, for example, advocating more generous EITC payments for adults without qualifying children. A good way to get to the overall political ethos is to take a look at that much-ridiculed, but still serious, “Life of Julia” ad from Obama’s 2012 campaign, in which the subtext is government as a non-judgmental, always reliable (so long as Democrats are in charge), whole-life provider that obviates any necessity for superfluous husbands or marriage.

      The trouble for reform conservatives trying the Boromir strategy to wear the ring of subsidy power is that there is no good way to target these expensive subsidies to just their clients, that is, just the population which can be nudged onto the Republican fork instead of the Democrat fork. Subsidizing procreation in general doesn’t help if one ends up also subsidizing a lot of illegitimate births to single mothers, and it doesn’t seem feasible to modify these provisions to include truly large “marriage bonuses” (one can imagine the predictable depictions of ‘GOP cruetly to poor children’ already.)

      All of this is pretty ugly and repellent (not to mention politicallly radioactive) to decent people when exposed and discussed in raw and naked form and in these cynically realistic terms, just as many people would prefer to ignore the issue of strategic demographic shaping of the future electorate.

      But it was inevitable that democratic politics would evolve in the direction of parties eventually discovering and exploiting the most efficient routes to victory, which involve abusing state power to reward and create more loyal partisan clients on the one hand, and a tabloid-trash propaganda level of ‘discourse’ on the other. This is how we live now; have a nice day.

      And, you know, if one expresses any reasonable and well-founded skepticism of modern Democracy along these and other compelling lines, and/or from a libertarian perspective, then Niskanen Center writers will be sure to pounce and take one to task for sowing the wind that has reaped neo-nazi whirlwinds, or something.

  2. Campbell says:

    Tom Jones is 77. He deserves a break.

  3. Tom DeMeo says:

    As options go, this one isn’t so great. It doesn’t look like society is organizing around providing it to the majority.

    This looks more like the deterioration of a class of work that used to be available but is now going away.

  4. Jay says:

    I’ve been in-and-out a few times myself, and work wasn’t optional. It was unavailable.

  5. Moo cow says:

    “Today, more people between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents, 22.9 million, than live with a spouse, 19.9 million. In 1975, more than twice as many people in the same age group lived with a spouse (31.9 million) than with their parents (14.7 million).” I think the percent on that is 40% live at home.

    1. In Western Washington help wanted signs are everywhere. Pay is good for fast food, etc. At least for a single person. My local McDonald’s churns through employees like there’s a tornado outside. Stay for a few months and you get a big raise and a bonus.

    2. The trades. Want a little more? Every half-awake tradesman has decamped for Seattle. If I needed work I know exactly what I would do. I think I could do pretty well, too.

    3. Do people have it too good? Mom washes and cooks. Dad keeps the lights on in the basement. All you need is your PC?

    4. I never roofed. It was hard work. I painted and I was a gofer for a remodeler. Not rocket science, but you did need to be on the job at 8am or you got fired. Too hard for young white guys? Seems so.

    • Jay says:

      In my experience:

      (1) I was overqualified for service jobs. They’re looking for people who have a good chance of staying for years, and a graduate degree took me out of the running. They assumed, correctly, that I would be actively looking for a better job and would leave at the first opportunity.

      (2 and 4) Construction work is very cyclical. Some years there are plenty of jobs available. Some years no.

      (3) Thankfully I had people who wouldn’t let me starve. Which is why I’m still alive.

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