Friday, March 7, 2014

Sure! Blame Baby-Boomers

colorful composite photo image of the mid-body of a Psychedelically dressed hippie
Are Baby-Boomers Retiring?
A dropping unemployment rate says jobs are coming back. Unfortunately, main street can't see the improvements. Why not blame Boomers? 
Come to find out that the unemployment rate has dropped because workers are leaving the job market and not because of job creation.
Normally, disillusioned workers would be a terrible indicator of a failing system. So, to make us feel better, our leaders are blaming Boomers. Their story is that only retiring Boomers are departing the job market in large numbers because of age. But the argument seems convenient at best. As the government loses track of millions of workers who have fallen out of the labor market, our leaders in Washington are missing a few hints.
It turns out that it doesn't make sense to blame Boomers.
First, Boomers are not like their parents. Members of the Greatest Generation liked telling stories of war as they chilled under the porch. Boomers, on the other hand, are much more active. They dislike both dependency and immobility.
From early on, Boomers' free spirit drove them to change the rules to society. Starting with the role of women, they then demystified sex and even found a place for drugs. As their personal productivity increased, they became the biggest spenders in the history of the planet.
But spenders they are no more. You see, Boomers are kind of broke. They do not have enough money to retire. So, they will have to continue to work longer than their parents to make ends meet.
How can I be sure? Well, if they had enough to retire, we would witness great signs of celebration honoring their accomplishments; from parties, to travel, to spoiling grand kids. Boomers have left no doubt about their desire to do everything bigger, better and faster than any other generation. But I just don't see the indication that this is taking place.
Chart of US Labor Participation Rates vs. Recessions (by Thomson Reuters)
Labor Participation Rates vs. Recessions
(by Thomson Reuters)
Moreover, if boomers were truly preparing for retirement, we would see great asset liquidations. As a result, there would be massive drops in the price of everything from Harley Davidson motorcycles to fishing boats. While this may still take place a few years from today, it isn't retirement that's in the minds of Boomers right now. They still think they can ride the Harley without much back pain.
So what's pushing Labor Participation Rates down? Who are the workers giving up looking for jobs?
If my assumption is correct, a different large group must be leaving the work force in place of Boomers.
It is evident in the Labor Participation Rate chart above that rates peaked at the end of the 90's. More recently, rates have collapsed further after the recession ended. Unlike with all other recessions in the chart, this one failed to rebound, even after a prolonged period of time.

Who is missing?
Composite image of an age-group member female plus chart of US Labor Participation Rate for those 65 year and older
Labor Participation Rate (65 years and over)
Looking at the Labor Participation Rate for those ages 65 and above, there is no doubt that they have not given up. The chart is clearly on a sustained uptrend which started in the mid 90's.
Honestly, the clear lack of correlation between this and the chart of the total Participation left me stunned as I reviewed the information. While I did not believe the story promoted by many mainstream economists, I certainly did not expect for this age bracket to contradict the trend by such large margin.
Composite image of an age-group member female plus chart of US Labor Participation Rate for those 55 to 64 years
Labor Participation Rate (55 to 64 years)
Now look at workers between the ages of 55 and 64. While their participation is flattening, it has certainly not dropped in sympathy with total participation.
I should probably highlight that the probability of a sudden change in direction of an uptrend is very low. It is much more probable that these uptrends move sideways as they exhaust the energy that pushed them higher.
So far, these two charts corroborate my suggestion that Baby-Boomers are not moving towards retirement yet. There is no doubt that at some point they will, as it is natural. We will simply have to wait longer.

If not Boomers, then who?
Composite image of an age-group member female plus chart of US Labor Participation Rate for those 16 to 24 years
Labor Participation Rate (16 to 24 years)
Let's look at the other side of the spectrum. Thus far we know that many 16 to 24 year olds still live at home with their parents, have large tuition debt and display a higher degree of entitlement than other generations. Could these characteristics show on Labor Participation? You bet!
Perhaps counterintuitively, this group has been pushed further and further out of the labor force. The decline in the chart dates to the end of the 90's. Furthermore, the recent declines are very robust in nature. You see, when we discuss impacts on demographics, we tend to focus mainly on Baby-Boomers because they are the largest single group that can easily affect economy. But what we often miss is that their children, the Millennials, are showing up in two larger waves. In the aggregate, there are more Millennials than Baby-Boomers. It thus makes sense that Millenials would also create seismic shifts on the economy.
Composite image of an age-group member female plus chart of US Labor Participation Rate for those 25 to 54 years
Labor Participation Rate (25 to 54 years)
Now look at the group in the middle. Definitely, the 25 to 54 years group dictates the main shape of the total participation rate curve. Meanwhile the 16 to 24 years group determines the acceleration. Together, these last two groups oppose the positive influence of those who are closer to retirement.
That these charts completely contradict the general consensus among economists who think that Labor Participation drops are due to Baby-Boomer retiring is not surprising. We live in a world where everybody is afraid of being exceptional. Everyone follows everyone else; even if it means we all end up in the precipice.
This is one more piece of evidence that the stories served by our nation's leadership are bogus at best. Our Presient would like us to believe that jobs are coming back thanks to his great economic projects. But the reality behind the scenes is different. Boomers are having to work longer to pay for retirement. With a lack of jobs, Boomers face accepting lower paying jobs; something that takes entry level jobs away from younger professionals.
We are letting headlines distort our economic impressions in a way that directly contradicts our intuition. In a nutshell, the country is broken and our leadership is either driving disinformation or they have no idea on how to better our position.

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