There's a ritual every first Friday of the month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its initial estimate for how many jobs were added or lost the previous four weeks; everybody scrutinizes that; and then Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers tell us what it all means. (Oh, and Jack Welch insists it's all rigged). But this tradition is going to change a bit the next few years: there aren't going to be as many jobs to obsess over.
Now, it used to be that the economy needed to add around 150,000 new jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. That number has gone down recently as the baby boomers have begun to retire and young people have gone back to school to take refuge from the Great Recession. But it will keep going down even after millennials fully enter (or re-enter) the labor force, because more and more boomers will be hitting their golden years. As you can see below, the Chicago Fed estimates trend growth will slow to 80,000 jobs a month the next two years, before falling further to 35,000 jobs a month by the end of the decade. In other words, by 2016 or so, it might take as little as 60,000 jobs a month to bring unemployment down.
This is a population story, not a Great Recession story. As Conor Sen points out, the prime-age labor force of 25 to 54-year-olds has been mostly flat since 2000 when we hit Peak Boomer. It's not likely to go up much now unless immigration reform happens. Indeed, the Chicago Fed figures that if immigration, which has collapsed since the collapse, rebounds to just 2008 rather than 2012 levels that trend growth will rise to 65,000 by the late 2010s.
With Social Security and Medicare about to hit a demographic crunch, now would be a horrible time to forget that we are a nation of immigrants.
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Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.