Behold the newest proof of America’s unemployment crisis: The United Kingdom now outdoes the United States in workforce participation. The FT reports that for the first time in 36 years the UK rate (63.6 percent) is higher than the U.S. rate (63 percent). The numbers are particularly striking for younger workers:
Among 25-34 year olds, UK participation is up from 84.3 per cent to 85.4 per cent between 2007 and 2013. Over the same period in the US, participation fell from 83.3 per cent to 81.8 per cent.
According to the FT, economists aren’t sure exactly why the United States is lagging behind. More research into the Brits’ economic resiliency would be much appreciated. Meanwhile, though, the discussion of workforce participation in America is oddly limited. Pundits assume that “job creation” is a matter of federal policy. The government should either do certain things, or refrain from doing certain things, to create make-work for the unemployed. Younger Americans hear those messages and begin to think of themselves as passive beneficiaries of “job creation.” They begin to think they can sit idly until the government or the economy offer them a 9–5 office job.
This is not how the world works today. The turmoil of the new information and service economy means that millennials will have to be their own job creators if they want to work. Yes, government policy plays a key role in either suppressing or facilitating general job creation and economic growth. But that should not obscure the fact that younger Americans will have to depend more on their own capacities to freelance, innovate, or offer new services to the larger population.