Labor Force Participation in ND and US

The radio audience is often interested in labor market matters such as wages and employment. The September “Employment Situation” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (available here) makes it clear COVID adjustments still impact the data. We need to confront not just sharp breaks in the data series, but actual changes in preferences for work and other structural adjustments. This situation is not likely to fully resolve itself anytime soon.

I find it helpful, usually, to compare the North Dakota data to the broader US picture at these times. The two, while often telling similar stories, are not often telling identical stories.

For each data series I include the actual data and a smoothed series (loess method). The recent data make it clear there is a significant downward decline. This decline is pretty consistent for North Dakota from 2011 to the present. For the US the decline flattened in the 2015-16 time period, and even increase briefly, before continuing its decline.

One thing missed in recent discussions is that significant numbers of older people likely looked at the COVID situation, at some point, and decided to leave the workforce. This was probably a rational action based on factors like stock market returns to their retirement portfolio and their risk for COVID.

Clearly these numbers cannot go to zero. There will be a flattening at some point, and possible a recovery, at least in part. Where that level is actually is unclear, at least to me at this point. There are still too many moving parts right now. One thing we also want to consider is the accuracy of the job openings data.

Are the jobs listed in job openings actually necessary? There is a difference between, it would be easier to produce if we had another worker, and we cannot make our products without another worker. Where do the openings fall? Locally I have seen some listing open for months and in some cases more than a year. Did the company go out of business? No. There are other alternatives too, such as automation, outsourcing, and rotating temp work firms can employ. Too many simply accept the openings data as indicative of a failing labor market and that is not at all the case. We need to consider flows in and flows out of labor markets to understand the effectiveness of the workings of the labor market.

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