Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wall St. Journal Blames Boomers for Lousy Work Force

Ever since the owner of Fox News bought the Wall Street Journal in 2007, it appears that the once esteemed and unquestionable newspaper appears to be much more ideological these days. Rather than just reporting "news" that could be significant to use by business leaders, economists, lawmakers and public policy advocates are attempting to make well-informed decisions, the WSJ often appears more bent in political propaganda in an attempt to sway outcomes and public opinion, rather than just reporting what's actually happening.

Fox News, who regularly blames the jobless and the poor for being jobless and poor, now has their sister company, the Wall Street Journal, blaming Social Security, older workers, retirees and the disabled for a 35-year record low in the labor force participation rate. And as soon as the almighty Wall Street Journal publishes something, everyone else in the media (without fact-checking) regularly jumps on their band wagon and just regurgitates their inaccurate bile. (On the face, this appears to be another back-door attempt by the WSJ to use generational warfare to divide young and old on the subject of Social Security).

As of today, the labor force participation rate is the lowest it's been since February 1978 when Jimmy Carter was president. But it's not just because the Baby Boomers have been retiring, that the work force is shrinking, this has been going on since late in the Clinton administration. The first Baby Boomer, who born in 1946 (and who became eligible in 2011 to retire at the age of 65) didn't retire until last year.

The labor force participation rate, according to data from the Bureau of labor Statistics:
Labor force participation rate -- 2000 to 2013
Labor force participation rate -- 1946 to 2013

The share of Americans 25 to 54 years old (who are in the labor force, either by working or actively looking for work), have also been dropping out of the labor force. The participation rate fell during the 2001 recession and has never recovered since then. Another slide began because of the 2008 financial crisis. But this trend among prime-working-age Americans cannot be simply explained away by retiring Baby Boomers, as the Wall Street Journal claims.

What the Wall Street Journal also never mentions, nor do the Fed studies that they cite, is the lack of new entrants into the labor force to re-supply any retirees (Boomers or otherwise).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. has had over 3 million high school graduates every year during the Obama administration --- those who would be potentially entering the work force for the very first time, even if they go on to also enroll in college.

So on average, theoretically, the U.S. would need to have 3 million retirees and disabled people every year going on the Social Security "dole" to necessarily break even on the labor force participation rate. But that hasn't been happening.

According to data from the Social Security Administration, as of January 2009 when Obama first took office, the U.S. had a total of 39,927,185 retired and disabled workers receiving a monthly Social Security benefit --- 32,484,808 retired and 7,442,377 disabled.

Almost 5 years later, as of November 2013, the U.S. had a total of 46,775,537 retired and disabled workers --- 37,833,877 retired and 8,941,660 disabled --- for a net gain of 6,848,352 retired and disabled workers (5,349,069 that retired and 1,499,283 who were awarded on a disability claim).
* It's also worth noting that, while disability "claims" were up in the aftermath of the Great Recession, a Congressional Budget Office study says claims are always up during recessions. But actual disability "awards" are down. Source: SSA (See the full post with data here)
Social Security disability awards

As for the high school graduating classes of 2008 through 2013, the U.S. has had an estimated 15,403,905 high school graduates --- a difference of 8,555,553 who might otherwise be in the labor force when compared to the additional 6,848,352 retired and disabled workers during that same period of time.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 48.8 percent of the 3.2 million youth who graduated from high school (just from last year alone) were "in the labor force". In a 14-page report by Rutgers, they noted a whopping 44% of high school students were unemployed ----- meaning:

Since Obama's first year in office, the U.S. has had more "non-starters" than "quitters" in the labor force.

Last year, in a study by the Kansas City Fed (that the Wall Street Journal had cited) they reported:
"An analysis of labor market data suggests that there are no structural changes that can explain movements in unemployment rates over recent years. Neither industrial nor demographic shifts nor a mismatch of skills with job vacancies is behind the increased rates of unemployment."
And from the most recent study by the Philly Fed (dated November 19, 2013) that the Wall Street Journal had also cited:
"As of the first half of 2013, roughly 5 percent to 6 percent of individuals in the working-age population are out of the labor force because of disability, 16 percent to 17 percent are out of the labor force because of retirement, and the rest have left the labor force for other reasons."
Shigeru Fujita at the Philly Fed noted that the nonparticipation in the labor force (due to disability) raised the overall nonparticipation rate by 1.4 percent (between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2011); but he also adds, "In the last two years or so, however, it has been flat, thus making no contribution to the overall decline in the participation rate." (In other words, not since the very first Baby Boomer retired last year.)

However, his study also noted that, "Nonparticipation due to retirement did not rise until the end of the Great Recession, but started to increase significantly in 2010. Since the start of 2012, it has been the only component that has contributed to the increase in the nonparticipation rate."

While although Shigeru Fujita doesn't specifically say so, I would also note that this increase for retirees was also because many older workers who lost jobs in 2008/09, had collected unemployment benefits until 2010 (when federal extended benefits were available up to 99 weeks in some states). But then when those UI benefits were exhausted (and after not finding work again), with no other options available to them, many of these long-term unemployed Baby Boomers were forced to take early Social Security retirements at the age of 62 (and/or prematurely raided their pension funds and 401ks). And many of those who were not old enough, applied for programs such as food stamps, TANF and Medicaid.

Older workers who were NOT laid off during the recession, were delaying retirements and working longer than expected to recoup losses in retirement plans and home equity values. Much of the churn rate has been because people were being laid off and then rehired again, and not just because older workers were leaving the work force (making room for new people) or because other workers were moving on to better jobs. (See the hires and separations in the Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS report.)

The study by Shigeru Fujita for the Philly Fed also goes on to say that "the number of disabled persons has been steadily rising". Yes, but as previously mentioned, only in proportion to the population, whereas, although disability "claims" have risen, actual wards have actually declined last year. When disabled people (after sometimes being out of the labor force for 3 years or longer while appealing their claims), and who are eventually denied for SSDI benefits, are STILL remaining out of the work force.

It's also important to note in the Philly Fed's study:
"There is no question that more workers dropped out of the labor force due to discouragement during and after the Great Recession and that there are more discouraged workers now than before the recession. These facts clearly reflect the continued weakness of the U.S. labor market."
So, as people are retiring (or being forced into early retirement), naturally this would also proportionately increase the share of older people "leaving" the labor force, but also because not enough new people are entering the labor force (providing a healthy churn rate) to fill the empty gaps left by older retiring workers.
In the conclusion of the Philly Fed's study --- in the very last lines of the very last paragraph --- Shigeru Fujita finally reveals:
"Lastly, unfortunately, I could not pin down an underlying cause of the increase in nonparticipation among those who do not want a job. This appears to be an important area for future research."
But yet, the Wall Street Journal has concluded the research for him, in the title of their recent article "Work Force Is Shrinking Because of Retiring Boomers". At the very end the Wall Street Journal's hit piece against old people, we learn that they are mostly concerned about the Fed curbing its bond-buying stimulus program at its policy meeting next week. (Read: Confessions of a Quantitative Easer and Real Money Matters to understand the Wall Street Journal's REAL concerns.)

Recap: Since Obama first took office (from 2008 through 2013) we've had 15.4 million high school graduates. During that same period of time we've had an additional 6.8 million retired and disabled people. In other words, the U.S. has had more "non-starters" than "quitters" in the labor force. Baby Boomers were born from 1946 and 1964 --- and the first Baby Boomer didn't retire until last year. But the labor force has been in decline for the past 14 years --- so it's numerically impossible to blame the Boomers for a declining labor force participation rate. The Wall Street Journal has (again) been debunked.

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