What Has Driven the Labor Force Participation Gap since February 2020?
The U.S. labor force participation rate (LFPR) currently stands at 62.5 percent, 0.8 percentage point below its level in February 2020. This “participation gap” translates into 2.1 million workers out of the labor force. In this post, we evaluate three potential drivers of the gap: First, population aging from the baby boomers reaching retirement age puts downward pressure on participation. Second, the share of individuals of retirement age that are actually retired has risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, long COVID and disability more generally may induce more people to leave the labor force. We find that nearly all of the participation gap can be explained by population aging, which caused a significant rise in the number of retirements. Higher retirement rates compared to pre-COVID have had only a modest effect, while disability has virtually no effect.
Bank Profits and Shareholder Payouts: The Repurchases Cycle
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve placed restrictions on large banks’ dividends and share repurchases. These restrictions were intended to enhance banks’ resiliency by bolstering their capital in light of the very uncertain economic environment and concerns that banks might face very large losses should bad-case scenarios come to pass. When it became clear that the outlook had improved and that the losses banks experienced were unlikely to threaten their stability, the Federal Reserve removed these restrictions. In this post, we look at what happened to large banks’ dividends and share repurchases during and after the pandemic-era restrictions, tracking these shareholder payouts relative to bank profits to understand how these payments impacted large banks’ capital during this period.
SCE Labor Market Survey Shows Average Reservation Wage Continues Upward Trend
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s November 2022 SCE Labor Market Survey shows a rise in the average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—to $73,667, its highest level since the series began in 2014. Respondents’ satisfaction with wage compensation, non-wage benefits, and promotion opportunities at their current job all improved in November compared to July. Regarding expectations, the average expected wage offer (conditional on receiving one) also increased and reached a new high.
Long COVID Appears to Have Led to a Surge of the Disabled in the Workplace
Although most of those infected with COVID-19 have recovered relatively quickly, a substantial share has not, and remains symptomatic months or even years later, in what is commonly referred to as long COVID. Data on the incidence of long COVID is scarce, but recent Census Bureau data suggest that sixteen million working age Americans suffer from it. The economic costs of long COVID is estimated to be in the trillions. While many with long COVID have dropped out of the labor force because they can no longer work, many others appear to be working despite having disabilities related to the disease. Indeed, there has been an increase of around 1.7 million disabled persons in the U.S. since the pandemic began, and there are close to one million newly disabled workers. These disabled workers can benefit from workplace accommodations to help them remain productive and stay on the job, particularly as the majority deal with fatigue and brain fog, the hallmarks of long COVID.
What Have Workers Done with the Time Freed up by Commuting Less?
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way Americans spend their time. One of the most enduring shifts has occurred in the workplace, with millions of employees making the switch to work from home. Even as the pandemic has waned, more than 15 percent of full-time employees remain fully remote and an additional 30 percent work in hybrid arrangements (Barrero, Bloom, and Davis). These changes have substantially reduced time spent commuting to work; in the aggregate, Americans now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work each day. In this post, we investigate how people spend this saved time on other activities. Using detailed data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), we find that employed individuals allocate their saved commute time toward leisure activities and sleeping, while reducing overall work hours.
Three Key Facts from the Center for Microeconomic Data’s 2022 Student Loan Update
Today, researchers from the Center for Microeconomic Data released the 2022 Student Loan Update, which contains statistics summarizing who holds student loans along with characteristics of these balances. To compute these statistics, we use the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel (CCP), a nationally representative 5 percent sample of all U.S. adults with an Equifax credit report. For this update, we focus on individuals with a student loan on their credit report. The update is linked here and shared in the student debt section of the Center for Microeconomic Data’s website. In this post, we highlight three facts from the current student loan landscape.
Pandemic Wage Pressures
The recovery since the onset of the pandemic has been characterized by a tight labor market and rising nominal wage growth. In this post, we look at labor market conditions from a more granular, sectoral point of view focusing on data covering the nine major industries. This breakdown is motivated by the exceptionality of the pandemic episode, the way it has asymmetrically affected sectors of the economy, and by the possibility of exploiting sectoral heterogeneities to understand the drivers of recent labor market dynamics. We document that wage pressures are highest in the sectors with the largest employment shortfall relative to their pre-pandemic trend path, but that other factors explain most of the wage growth differentials. We suggest that one key factor is the extent of physical contact that has had to be compensated for by offering higher wages. One implication of our analysis is that, as COVID-related factors recede, sectoral imbalances could be restored from the supply side as employment recovers back toward the pre-pandemic trend.
How Equitable Has the COVID Labor Market Recovery Been?
One of the two monetary policy goals of the Federal Reserve System— one-half of our dual mandate—is to aim for “maximum employment.” However, labor market outcomes are not monolithic, and different demographic and economic groups experience different labor market outcomes. In this post, we analyze heterogeneity in employment rates by race and ethnicity, focusing on the COVID-19 recession of March-April 2020 and its aftermath. We find that the demographic employment gaps temporarily increased during the onset of the pandemic but narrowed back by spring 2022 to close to where they were in 2019. In the second post of this series, we will focus on heterogeneity in inflation rates, the second part of our dual mandate.
Does China’s Zero Covid Strategy Mean Zero Economic Growth?
The Chinese government has followed a “zero covid strategy” (ZCS) ever since the world’s first COVID-19 lockdowns ended in China around late March and early April of 2020. While this strategy has been effective at maintaining low infection levels and robust manufacturing and export activity, its viability is being severely strained by the spread of increasingly infectious coronavirus variants. As a result, there now appears to be a fundamental incompatibility between the ZCS and the government’s economic growth objectives.
What Do Consumers Think Will Happen to Inflation?
This post provides an update on two earlier blog posts (here and here) in which we discuss how consumers’ views about future inflation have evolved in a continually changing economic environment. Using data from the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE), we show that while short-term inflation expectations have continued to trend upward, medium-term inflation expectations appear to have reached a plateau over the past few months, and longer-term inflation expectations have remained remarkably stable. Not surprisingly given recent movements in consumer prices, we find that most respondents agree that inflation will remain high over the next year. In contrast, and somewhat surprisingly, there is a divergence in consumers’ medium-term inflation expectations, in the sense that we observe a simultaneous increase in both the share of respondents who expect high inflation and the share of respondents who expect low inflation (and even deflation) three years from now. Finally, we show that individual consumers have become more uncertain about what inflation will be in the near future. However, in contrast to the pre-pandemic period, they tend to express less uncertainty about inflation further in the future.