The 12-Million-Worker Hole: This Is the Scariest Employment Graph, and Now You Can Play With It

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In February this year, the U.S. economy added 240,000 jobs. At that pace, we would close the American jobs gap in June 2018. Yes, 2018. In six years and four months.

In March, the economy added only 120,000 jobs. At that pace, we might not close the jobs gap until the end of the decade. No, not this decade. Until the end of the next decade.

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The Hamilton Project has created this handy Jobs Gap Calculator, pictured above, which they've kindly shared exclusively with The Atlantic. Here's how to play. Pick a number for one month's new jobs. Let's say 200,000. Plug the figure into the calculator, press go, and presto, you've got the year the U.S. finally emerges from the jobs gap.

The "jobs gap" is the number of people who need to find work in the U.S. economy before we return to pre-recession employment levels while absorbing new adult entrants, aging Millennials, and immigrants. In 2010, the jobs gap bottomed out at 12 million. After the best 12 months of job creation in five years, the gap is still about 11 million. That's the current population of Ohio.

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NB: We would actually have to grow even faster to get out of the jobs gap if work-force growth weren't slowing. But it is. That's thanks to older working-age people retiring in the next few years and not being fully replaced by immigration and new entrants. The graph below, also from Hamilton, tells the story. A smaller share of Americans will participate in the workforce in the next decade, while the senior population grows by 80%.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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