“More a Great Reshuffling Than a Great Resignation”

In the passages quoted below, Nobel laureate, and often-strident leftist Paul Krugman, modifies his views on the state of the U.S. labor market in an interesting and plausible way. I believe another part of the story, as Newt Gingrich has suggested, is that some workers may be following the advice of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, by in effect going on strike. So the Great Resignation may not entirely be a “myth.” More remains to be learned.

(p. 3) Have large numbers of Americans dropped out of the labor force — that is, they are neither working nor actively seeking work? To answer this question, you need to look at age-adjusted data; falling labor force participation because a growing number of Americans are over 65 isn’t meaningful in this context. So economists often look at the labor force participation of Americans in their prime working years: 25 to 54. And guess what? This participation rate has surged recently. It’s still slightly below its level on the eve of the pandemic, but it’s back to 2019 levels, which hardly looks like a Great Resignation.

What about early retirement? If a lot of that was happening, we’d expect to see reduced labor force participation among older workers, 55 to 64. But they’ve come rapidly back into the labor force.

A few months ago, it still seemed reasonable to talk about a Great Resignation. At this point, however, there’s basically nothing there. It’s true that an unusually high number of workers have been quitting their jobs, but they have been leaving for other, presumably better jobs, rather than leaving the work force. As the labor economist Arindrajit Dube says, it’s more a Great Reshuffling than a Great Resignation.

. . .

How can labor markets be so tight when payroll employment is still well below the prepandemic trend?

. . .

First, as the economist Dean Baker has been pointing out, the most commonly cited measures of employment don’t count the self-employed, and self-employment is up by a lot, around 600,000 more workers than the average in 2019. Some of this self-employment may be fictitious — gig workers who are employees in all but name but work for companies that classify them as independent contractors to avoid regulation. But it also does seem as if part of the Great Reshuffling has involved Americans concluding that they could improve their lives by starting their own businesses.

Second, a point that receives far less attention than it should is the decline of immigration since Donald Trump came to office, which turned into a plunge with the coming of the pandemic.

For the full commentary, see:

Paul Krugman. “The Myth of the Great Resignation.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, April 10, 2022): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 5, 2022, and has the title “What Ever Happened to the Great Resignation?”)

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, mentioned above, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

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