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August 1984, Vol. 107, No. 8
Discouraged workers: how strong
are their links to the job market?
In line with the cyclical ups and downs in the number of unemployed, the number of discouraged workers, that is, persons who report they want to work but are not looking for a job because they think they could not find one, has also exhibited large swings over the last decade and a half. For example, during the early 1970's, when the number of unemployed fluctuated in the 4- to 5-million range, the number of discouraged workers oscillated between 600,000 and 800,000. When the number of unemployed climbed past the 10-million mark, as it did in the 1982-83 period, the number of discouraged workers rose to the 1.6- to 1.8-million range.
Given the fairly strong cyclical sensitivity in the number of discouraged workers,1 one might conclude that they have strong links to the job market, that they test it periodically, and that they are ready to jump back into it if they believe jobs are available. However, an indepth look at available data on the behavior of discouraged workers leads to a quite different conclusion. While some of them may, indeed, keep a close eye n the job market, the majority appear to have few, if any, concrete contacts with it. For example, of the discouraged workers interviewed over the late 1970's and early 1980's, two-thirds or more reported that generally more than a a year had gone by since they last held a job. And special surveys conducted over this period showed that less than half of them had made any jobseeking efforts during the year preceding their interview. More importantly, according to a special study of data for the 1976-77 and the 1982-83 periods, only a minority of these persons reentered the job market in the 1-year period following their original classification as discouraged.
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1 The cyclical sensitivity of the discouraged workers' series has been examined by Paul O. Flaim in "Discouraged workers and changes in unemployment," Monthly Labor Review, March 1973, pp. 95-103, as well as by Carol M. Ondeck, "Discouraged workers' link to jobless rate reaffirmed," Monthly Labor Review, October 1978, pp. 40-42.
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