Originally Posted by mgeoffriau
The fallacy of small datasets.
Somewhere in this thread I posted an image of essentially the same thing, but going all the way back to the 1940s or so. In this context, the high employment of the late 90s / early 00s appears to be an anomalous bubble. Ah, here we are:
Source for data: CPS Tables
You can see how after WWII, the employment rate dipped below 54% for the only time in this range, as a bunch of former soldiers re-joined the "civilian labor force" and had trouble finding jobs. Then the data re-equalized (presumably as a result of women who had taken jobs during the war exiting the labor force and raising children), and things settled down for a while.
Between 1948 and 1984, the E:P ratio moved back and forth across a relatively narrow range. Given that this period includes both the "golden age" period of the 1950s and early 1960s, as well as the "shitty" period of the late 1970s, we might consider a ratio in the range of 55-60% to constitute "normal".
Between 1983 and 2000, the ratio grew dramatically. This might reflect the fact that the overall demographic in the US was changing during this time, with many women of the baby-boom generation entering the workforce for the first time, as well as a higher ratio of adults of working age to adults of normal retirement age.
Now, the baby boomers are starting to retire in large numbers. At the same time, the fact that they tended to produce fewer children per couple than their parents means that fewer new adults are entering the workforce to take their place. The ratio of people of retirement age to people of "traditional" working age is rising.
And then, of course, you have the concept of "surplus labor." During the 1990s in particular, we saw a dramatic upswing in the creation of entirely new job categories which, if we're totally honest with ourselves, didn't really contribute much to the overall economy. You can only have so many people employed as "canine dietary consultants" and "corporate image specialists" before your economy starts to look like something Douglas Adams would have written about.
In other words, it appears that we are currently returning to normal.