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?

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

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