Friday’s labor-force data brought liberal outcries, and a comment from Ben Bernanke, that the drop in labor-force participation indicates unemployment is really much higher, and the economy in worse shape, than the 7.3 percent unemployment rate might indicate. It is true that participation for men is at a postwar low and has decreased by 3-1/2 percentage points since the 2007 cyclical peak; and women’s participation stopped rising in 1999 and has fallen by 2 percentage points since the peak.
Is this so bad? Yes, if labor-force leavers are desperate to work and just get discouraged. But perhaps no; perhaps it has taken the Great Recession to get Americans to realize that we shouldn’t be working harder than people in other rich countries and should be enjoying more leisure. If this is so, perhaps there’s a silver lining in what so many people view as the economic doldrums of the last three years.
People multitask (in economists’ language, “engage in joint production”) in a surprising variety of ways. A neat example appeared in Brussels Airport, with a sign saying “charge your phone and laptop.” But the charging was done by you sitting on a saddle and peddling a machine that generated the power charging your device. This combination of activities illustrates the difficulty in classifying activities: Was it work or was it leisure (exercise), to pick two of the major aggregates that I use in my research? Was it an investment of time or was it consumption? In this and many other ways, changing technology renders rapidly obsolete the categories we have created to classify things and activities.
Even after a decent jobs report earlier this month, unemployment is still over 9%. The underemployment rate? That’s 16%, and includes part-time workers who’d rather be full-time, plus people who’ve simply stopped looking for a job. So what are we doing with all that extra free time?
A new study by economists from Princeton and the University of Chicago breaks it down. The bulk of foregone market work time during the recent recession, they say, is spent on leisure.
A week in a condominium in the Tuscan hills—all courtesy of the exchange of our own time share unit. Is this a good economic deal for us? In a narrow sense, no: the exchange fee, plus the annual fee in the “time share bank,” plus the taxes and upkeep on our own time-share unit almost equal what it would cost to rent the Tuscan unit for a week.
But: having an unused time-share week being wasted imposes psychic costs on us—and that forces us to take a one-week vacation. Also, the time-share bank provides information on a pre-selected set of vacation units, thus saving us search costs. We’re quite happy to pay for a self-control mechanism and pay to reduce the transaction costs of arranging a vacation.
The College of Liberal Arts at UT is offering its first ever “buyout.” If a faculty member retires at the end of this semester, s/he receives two years of pay as a lump sum. To be eligible, the sum of age plus years at UT must be at least 93. Of the 88 eligibles, I’m told that over 40 are taking the buyout. Read More »
The OECD has released its Society at a Glance survey, which reveals some interesting social trends in OECD member countries. Floyd Norris points out that countries with fast eaters, including all of North America, have higher economic growth rates than slow-eating countries like France. Read More »
Over the past several weeks, we’ve hosted discussions on obesity, street charity, real estate, and environmental conservation. Here now is a quorum that lets people relive the just-about-gone summer. The participants below were asked the following question: What’s your idea of a nightmare family vacation? Here are their responses. Feel free to give yours as […] Read More »
More on Dubner and Levitt’s discussion of work v. leisure: Stitch ‘N Pitch, a group of knitters at baseball games Read More »