Promises We Must Keep

February 12, 2021

James Kahn, Chair of the Economics Department at Yeshiva University, and Kevin Kliesen, Research Officer at the St Louis Fed, presented their economic outlooks in a recent Global Interdependence Center webinar. (You can find a taping at the GIC website.) James Kahn, in talking about the collapse in hours worked, noted that “I haven’t checked but I think it’s a record.” We’ll take as giving us permission to leave aside the gruesome graphs we all have showing the many recent records, and move to one of the points made by Kevin Kliesen, who lists membership in the Association of Christian Economists in his Fed bio.

First an aside: Kliesen quoted Honest Abe in saying, “The easiest way to predict the future is to create it,” and later evoked Vladimir Lenin’s remark that, “There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen,” to describe modern times.

Checking the Lincoln reference reveals that Lincoln’s advice on predicting the future has been attributed to pretty much everyone, including Peter Drucker. We’re thinking this may well be the only time Lincoln, Lenin, and by extension, Drucker have been roped together in a short presentation.

Kliesen also stressed the distinction between using labor data to gauge how the economy is doing, and using labor data to evaluate how our policies, directed to those who have suffered the most in the pandemic, are doing. He said that was a discussion for a different day, and his remarks, along with some “kicking ideas around” sessions with David Kotok, led us to put together these simple “employment deficit” tables.

The tables show the percentage gaps between the actual number of employed persons by demographic, and the level projected had the December 2019 Employment-Population ratios held steady. We’re using employment/population ratios instead of unemployment adjustments because that gets around issues of why people are not in the labor force and other playgrounds favored by our friend the devil. 

Of course you would get the same idea looking at unemployment rates, or jobs losses, or whatever, and of course EPOPs are in ragged shape, but this is a clear way to gauge our progress, and the demographics are striking.

The tables include the widest gap for each group that occurred since pandemic closures kicked in on the first row, meaning, overall, that the percentage of the employed was 19.1% lower during some month in 2020 than it would have been had December 2019’s EPOP of 61 held. Row 2 is the gap as of December, and the overall decline in the EPOP by demographic is in the third row.

As it well known, and as these tables make clear, minorities have been hardest hit, and women worse than men. For example, while the current employment level among all men is 6.2% below where it would have been had the December 2019 EPOP held, it’s 5.8% below for white men, 10.1% below for Black men, and 8.1% below for Hispanic men. Please note that even with a 6 point decline, Hispanic men retain the higher EPOP, 

We’ll update the table on Saturday following every monthly BLS Employment Report as an ongoing evaluation of how well we are fulfilling the promises we made to our essential workers in the heat of the early pandemic.

Employment Level Percentage Gaps

Projected by 12-2019 Employment-Population Ratios v. Current Actual 

  All White Black Hispanic Asian
Largest 2020 gap  19.1 18.3 21.4 25.2 18.7
Current Gap 6.5 5.8 10.0 8.6 6.1
12-19 to 12-20 61 to 57.4 61 to 57.4 59.3 o 53.9 64.3 to 59.2 61.7 to 58.2


  All White Black Hispanic
Largest 2020 gap 16.2 15.0 20.9 20.5
Current gap 6.2 5.8 10.1 8.1
12-19 to 12-20 69.3 to 65.3 69.3 to 65.8 64.3 to 58.4 77.5 to 71.7 


  All White Black Hispanic
Largest 2020 gap 20.2 20.2 21.1 29.3
Current 6.8 6.0 10.5 10.2
12-19 to 12-20 57.2 to 56.3 56.6 to 53.4 60.2 to 54.5 58.3 to 52.9


— Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood


TLRWire, a frequent missive from TLRAnalytics. Please click here to learn more about TLR. Get in touch with Philippa Dunne if you’d like to set up a trial subscription [email protected].


Please click here to view the replay of this Executive Briefing.

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