The last post generated some interesting responses in the comments, as well as on the blogs of Robert Waldmann, Brad DeLong, and PGL at Angry Bear.
Here are some points worth synthesizing:
1) Robert states:
The number cited in the op-ed criticized by Samwick is payroll employment, unshaped, unsliced, and selected because it is very very important.
My critique of Krugman has nothing to do with any reference to payroll employment. Krugman is discussing the labor force participation rate, the unemployment rate, and the employment-population ratio. All of these are drawn from the household survey and not the payroll survey, because they deal with decompositions of the whole population into those in or out of the labor force and of the labor force into those employed or unemployed.
2) Brad states:
I will concede that Paul Krugman should have written "primarily" rather than "only."
That concession is appreciated. We can differ on how important we think the distinction is.
3) However, that concession may not be enough. What generated the several posts of mine last fall was my attempt to figure out the extent to which the decline in the unemployment rate is due to the fact that "some of those without jobs stopped actively looking for work, and therefore dropped out of the unemployment statistics," as Krugman asserted.
In my original post, I considered the three usual augmented measures of the unemployment rate that the BLS tabulates in Table A-12 each month that specifically track those who are not in the labor force because they are not actively looking for work. Reviewing those numbers for the period between 6/2003 and 9/2004 (the period in question in Krugman's op-ed), we get:
- Unemployment Rate: Fell from 6.3 to 5.4 percent
- UR, Incl. discouraged workers: Fell from 6.6 to 5.7 percent
- UR, Incl. discouraged and other marginally attached workers: Fell from 7.2 to 6.4 percent
- UR, Incl. marginally attached workers and those employed part-time for economic reasons: Fell from 10.3 to 9.4 percent
- UR, Incl. any who wants a job: Fell from 9.2 to 8.4 percent
4) I don't even get "primarily" from this. I would like to have Robert, Brad, PGL, Krugman, or anyone else show me an unemployment rate that fell over this period even primarily because "some of those without jobs stopped actively looking for work, and therefore dropped out of the unemployment statistics." This is what a fact-checker at the New York Times would have required of Krugman (even leaving aside his inappropriate use of the word "only" in the original statement) and what the rest of us, presumably including Okrent, would have hoped for as the standard followed at the Times. In my view, Krugman's assertion does not even rise to his own standard of using the standard data in the standard way.
5) I posited, in the absence of such a measure, that the unemployment rate could be falling because people were voluntarily leaving the labor force and being replaced by those who were formerly unemployed. This story fits all of the facts cited above. In the absence of a better story to fit those facts, I'll stick with it.
Brad makes a reasonable point that over the time period in question (and many months on either side), compensation has fallen relative to productivity. Tracking his calculations as best I can from this table, and using the average of 2003:Q2 and 2003:Q3 to approximate Krugman's starting point of 6/2003 and the average of 2004:Q3 and 2004:Q4 to approximate Krugman's ending point of 9/2004, we see that:
- Real compensation per hour in the nonfarm business sector increased over this period of time, by about 2%.
- Output per hour in the nonfarm business sector increased over this period of time, by about 4%.
Bearing in mind that this does nothing to resuscitate Krugman's specific point, I agree that it is surprising that 2% real growth in compensation per hour was enough to accommodate any additional scarcity created by people voluntarily leaving employment. Leaving aside the scaling by productivity for a moment, it suggests a fairly flat demand curve for labor.
The weak growth in real compensation per hour may also suggest that a very large share of the productivity increase that is driving the trend in compensation relative to productivity came in the form of improvements in the production process that substitute directly for additional labor. There may be a growing divergence between the average and marginal productivity of a worker. Admittedly speculative, but this is my initial reaction to Brad's statement:
I cannot come up with a story according to which the Samwick channel is the dominant one that is consistent with the growing gap between wages and productivity.
6) PGL states:
While Andrew Samwick has joined the cottage industry of those who parse every word from Paul Krugman, ...
I don't consider myself to be in this cottage industry. I gave one example because an example was called for. I do not believe that one example would constitute the "disturbing habit" mentioned by Okrent, but I also don't presume that this example is the only one. I consider myself to be much happier when I am not asked to read Paul Krugman's op-eds, let alone have to parse every word. There are better places to go for similar points of view.Other blogs commenting on this post