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Stefania Albanesi, Victoria Gregory, Christina Patterson, and Ayşegül Şahin
More than three years after the end of the Great Recession, the labor market still remains weak, with the unemployment rate at 7.7 percent and payroll employment 3 million less than its pre-recession level. One possibility is that this weakness is a reflection of ongoing trends in the labor market that were exacerbated during the recession. Since the 1980s, employment has become increasingly concentrated among the highest- and lowest-skilled jobs in the occupational distribution, due to the disappearance of jobs focused on routine tasks. This phenomenon is called job polarization (see Autor et al. , Acemoglu and Autor , Jaimovic and Siu , and Abel and Deitz ).
The contrasting movements in the employment-to-population ratio (E/P) and the unemployment rate recently have been striking and puzzling. The unemployment rate has declined 1.7 percentage points since the unemployment peak in October 2009, but the E/P ratio has increased only 0.1 percentage point.
Recessions and recoveries typically have been times of substantial reallocation in the economy and the labor market, and the current cycle does not appear to be an exception. The speed and smoothness of reallocation depend in part on the structure of the labor market, particularly the degree of mismatch between the characteristics of available workers and newly available jobs. Such mismatches could occur because of differences in skills between workers and jobs (skills mismatch) or because of differences in the location of the available jobs and available workers (geographic mismatch). In this post, we focus on skills mismatch to assess the extent to which the slow pace of the labor market recovery from the Great Recession can be attributed to such problems. If skills mismatch is much more severe than usual, we would expect the unemployment rate to remain higher for longer and the workers subject to such mismatch to have worse labor market outcomes.
The unemployment rate in the United States fell from 9.1 percent in the summer of 2011 to 8.3 percent in February. This decline, the largest six-month drop in the unemployment rate since 1984, has surprised many economic forecasters. The decline is even more surprising because recent real GDP growth appears to have been around trend at best, whereas in early 1984, growth was more than 7 percent. Our next six posts in Liberty Street Economics will discuss prospects for the U.S. labor market given this surprisingly quick decline in the unemployment rate. In this opening post, we outline some of the themes examined in this series and provide a brief summary of our conclusions. But first we develop a simple framework to place the unemployment rate in context with the rest of the labor market.
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