Federal Covid-19 Stimulus Subsidies Reduced Labor Force Participation

(p. A2) . . ., home prices and stocks have soared, in part because of stimulus from the Fed. From the start of 2020 through Sept. 30 this year, U.S. households’ total assets soared 22% to nearly $163 trillion, Fed data show.

At the same time, the labor-force participation rate fell sharply and has remained stubbornly low. At 61.8% in November [2021], it was 1.5 percentage points below its pre-pandemic level. Many older workers retired early. But even among prime-age workers—those between 25 and 54—participation remains down more than a percentage point.

Some economists believe the extra cash is one reason for this. In part, that is based on research showing declines in wealth seem to have had the opposite effect. Falling housing and stock values from 2006 and 2010 led many who otherwise would have fallen out of the labor force to stay in, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The study found that participation was 0.7 percentage point higher than otherwise as a result.

Families that win at least $30,000 in the lottery tend to earn less in the next five years, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper released in July by four University of Chicago scholars. The more a person wins, the bigger the effect that the award has on earnings and employment, the paper found. Upper-income winners are more likely to reduce their hours, while lower-income winners are more likely to drop out of the labor market entirely, the paper found.

In Austria, workers who received severance payments worth two months of pay were far less likely to find a job within 20 weeks compared with those who received no such lump sum, according to a 2006 paper released by the NBER. The researchers also found a similar effect among workers whose unemployment benefits were extended from 20 weeks to 30 weeks.

For the full commentary, see:

Josh Mitchell. ” THE OUTLOOK; New Hope for Easing Labor Shortage.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 20, 2021): A2.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 19, 2021, and has the title ” THE OUTLOOK; Vast Household Wealth Could Be a Factor Behind U.S. Labor Shortage.”)

The July 2021 NBER working paper mentioned above is:

Golosov, Mikhail, Michael Graber, Magne Mogstad, and David Novgorodsky. “How Americans Respond to Idiosyncratic and Exogenous Changes in Household Wealth and Unearned Income.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper #29000, July 2021.

The published version of the 2006 NBER working paper mentioned above is:

Card, David, Raj Chetty, and Andrea Weber. “Cash-on-Hand and Competing Models of Intertemporal Behavior: New Evidence from the Labor Market.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, no. 4 (Nov. 2007): 1511-60.

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