I’ve been tracking US employment and unemployment for the past couple years. Here’s an updated version of a graph looking at employment to population. One advantage over “headline” unemployment is that this corrects for people who drop out of the labor force. However, it does not pick up those working involuntary short hours, since those data are not broken down by age bracket. Those working short hours has fallen a bit but is quite volatile, and so at most results in a very modest understatement of the improvement in labor markets.
As you can see, the biggest impact of the Great Recession was on the youngest cohort, e.g., new school leavers; the second biggest impact was actually on prime-age workers. Now over the past year there has been an (all too) modest increase across all the cohorts for which I compiled data. The aging of the population masks that (a point in Paul Krugman’s latest blog, Constant Demography Employment). But I’ll reiterate that the masking effect is not large. The recovery continues, but at a slow pace.Finally, employment increases were stronger in the second half of 2011 going into early 2012; it’s been muted since. For the employment numbers I used a simple OLS regression to calculate the trend; for the short-hours adjusted employment I eyeballed in a fairly optimistic rate of increase. The implications are not encouraging; if we’re lucky – headwinds abound so sustaining the rate of increase for that many years would be more-or-less unprecedented. But if things go well, we don’t return to the (old) normal until 2017 in one case, 2021 in the other.