One of the unanswered mysteries about the economy today isn't just where the jobs are, but where the drop-outs are. Those "drop-outs" are the 6 million would-be workers who are not counted in the labor force because they've stopped actively seeking more work, even if they're very much hoping for more work.
If they counted toward unemployment, the official rate would be 11 percent rather than 8.6 percent. As the economy picks up, and these people re-join the job hunt, the unemployment rate will go up before it goes down.
Who are the 6 million? First they're young. Since 2000, "the participation rate for people ages 16 to 24 has fallen from 66 percent to about 55 percent," the Cleveland Fed reported this year. Among those young people, they're mostly women. The share of women in the labor force under 25 has reached its lowest point in 30 years. More than 400,000 young women have dropped out entirely in the last two and a half years, Catherine Rampell writes today in the New York Times.
What are these young women doing, if they're not simply going home to look after their families or bide time while the economy picks up? The good news is that thousands of them are going to school, Rampell finds, where they'll learn skills that should put them at an advantage in two or four years. The bad news is that thousands of them want to be working part-time while they take classes, but they can't, making it harder for them to pay back their student loans.