Pent-up inflation from low labor force participation rate?

In the spring of 2020, the typical state governor ordered his/her/zir/their subjects to stay home and watch TV or play Xbox. A lot of us are still following the habits that we developed in 2020. The U.S. labor force participation rate:

A business executive with whom I talked in Oslo said “it takes three months to create a new habit,” which was his explanation for why a fair number of Norwegians haven’t returned to their pre-coronapanic work habits. (World Bank stats show that Norwegians are much more likely to work than Americans, with participation rates of 66 percent versus 61 percent. Part of this may be a difference in family law. It is not straightforward in Norway to live comfortably off a prior sexual relationship, either by alimony or child support. The country offers no-fault (“unilateral”) divorce, but anecdotally, profits are limited to about 10 percent of the defendant’s pre-tax income. Having sex with a high-income defendant and harvesting child support is even less lucrative.)

I’m wondering if there is some pent-up inflation that we’ve built into the U.S. economy by teaching people how great life at home with a plethora of screens can be. Getting Americans back to work at previous levels plainly will require paying them more than what employers are currently paying.

We saw evidence of this in every state that we visited this summer between Florida and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A coffee shop near Great Smoky Mountain National Park:


A hotel manager in Oshkosh explained that he had to fly people in from Florida and Georgia to work during the peak EAA AirVenture week.

An airport manager retired in May 2021 and, as of July 2022, the city of Prairie du Chien had not been able to find a replacement at the wages offered (about $63,000 per year, plus benefits worth another $40,000 per year?):

The saddest photo of all… a homemade donut shop with shortened hours in Chattanooga:

What do we think? Is there a round of inflation built into our society that is yet to hit us? Either employers will have to raise wages to get Americans off our couches or money will need to be borrowed/printed by the government to fund all of the means-tested benefits to which the couch-dwellers are entitled (raising tax rates is not an option, I don’t think, for increasing revenue because rates are already set to the level that maximizes taxes actually collected). Both of these changes would be inflationary.

(Norway, incidentally, has no help-wanted signs nor, as far as I could tell given my illiteracy, any apology signs. The locals say that service businesses are short-staffed and that quality has suffered, but that all recruiting is done online so customers won’t see signs encouraging job applications.)


  • “Who Are America’s Missing Workers?” (NYT, 9/12/2022): “I could jump back in, but then I got used to being retired,” said Thomas Strait, who chose early retirement at the beginning of the pandemic. [moving from California to Florida] … men in their prime working years, from 25 to 54, have retreated from the work force relative to February 2020, while women have bounced back. [Is it men or women who love Xbox more?] … “A lot of workers are still disconnected, and we’re just not seeing them come on,” said Jesse Wheeler, an economic analyst with the polling and analysis firm Morning Consult. “It’s unclear how all of them are making ends meet, but I think it has a lot to do with consolidation of households and cutting costs. It would’ve been difficult to change if they weren’t forced into it.”
  • Help-wanted ad from the University of California, Santa Cruz: The Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Department ( at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) invites applications for a an Assistant/Associate Professor of Critical Race Science and Technology Studies (STS). … A demonstrated record of research that de-centers Western scientific ways of knowing and challenges extractivist capitalist practices is especially welcome as are commitments to queer and indigenous ecologies, trans-species studies, and race-radical approaches to STEM. … Ideal applicants will demonstrate an approach to science and technology grounded in histories of and innovative methods of analyzing anticolonial, decolonizing, liberationist political thought and praxis, … Document requirements … Statement of Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion** – Statement on your contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including information about your understanding of these topics, your record of activities to date, and your specific plans and goals for advancing equity and inclusion if hired at UC Santa Cruz. Candidates are urged to review guidelines on statements (see before preparing their application.

9 thoughts on “Pent-up inflation from low labor force participation rate?

  1. Inflation is when too many bidies chase limited amount of goods and services, so low labor force participation increases inflation when money are printed, in at least 2 ways: diminished value creation (i. e. less goods of services by those not laboring) and more time to browse online ads and make impulsive purchases with handled down bidies, ie more leisure time that is spent on American traditional leisure past time- shopping.

  2. Burger King in my local Deplorable area of Massachusetts – this is a brand new store, opened during the Plague – has recently had to cut back its hours because they cannot find anyone to work in the mornings from 9 a.m. until almost 2:00 in the afternoon. So they have a beautiful, gleaming-new franchise restaurant with all the latest equipment that sits idle for more than half the day because they can’t find enough people to staff it.

    I’ll take a picture today.

    I know, Burger King is not what a lot of people think of as a “great job.” On the other hand, this is a brand new restaurant in a travel center and they can’t find anyone.

    • @philg: > “Getting Americans back to work at previous levels plainly will require paying them more than what employers are currently paying.”

      The current minimum wage in MA is $14.25 / hour. So just about anyone who can walk and chew gum can get a morning-to-early-afternoon job where they make $350+ per week, basically running the drive-thru or making Impossible Whoppers and breakfast sandwiches in a brand-new, sparklingly clean restaurant with easy parking and highway access. Someone who had a little hustle in their bones could plausibly take that job, get another 2nd shift job and bring in $1,000 a week plus benefits. But apparently there are not enough sufficiently motivated people.

  3. > [Is it men or women who love Xbox more?]

    This is a very unscientific survey, but a quick look at the “Xbox Series X” game page at shows an impressive roster of immersisive first person shooter games to the exclusion of almost everything else. Then there are some “Latest Deals” advertisements for Spiderman, NBA 2K33, and advance deals on Assassin’s Creed Mirage preorders.

    Scroll down and you find “Apex Legend”, “Street Fighter 6” and – among others: “Best Call of Duty: Warzone Licensed Skins, from Terminator to Snoop Dogg”

    I wonder if Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart will ever do an FPS game together?

  4. “Norwegians are much more likely to work than Americans, with participation rates of 66 percent versus 61 percent. Part of this may be a difference in family law. ”

    Nope. Norway is full of Norwegians and America is full of, well…nevermind.

  5. Wow, that job posting for a professor just blew my mind. I am totally gobsmacked.

    “Potential areas of research and teaching focus, among various areas of expertise, include but are not limited to environmental racism; climate justice; genomic justice; war technologies; medicine; public health; governance of science and technology; science policy; criminology, surveillance, and policing; border control; educational technologies; new media studies; critical data studies; histories of antiracism and anticolonialism in science, including the impact of grassroots collective and communal movements against racist science; and CRES engagement with the creative arts that facilitates a nexus between creative and critical inquiry.”

    I think I found some candidates for this position:
    The 2014 Cross Examination Debate Association’s national champions.

  6. Interesting follow up comment in the youtube video:
    “In case anyone is wondering, George Lee, the skinny black guy, later received a bachelor’s degree and two masters degrees from Oklahoma in education and human resources. He coaches Oklahoma’s debate team and is allowed to teach children Language arts at an Oklahoma City High School. He’s also a college professor at University of Oklahoma. He’s also a pretty popular Twitter as ConsciousLee and speaks at tons of events and colleges.

    The fat guy, Rashid Campbell, is a retired professional protester turned semipopular TikToker who got his account banned at 1 million, but is back with a smaller account, and is now an aspiring low level rapper with “Kurse Krew”. He’s mainly just a low level grifter and hustler trying to become big on black social media subcultures.

    The short haired girl Korey Johnson, got a polisci bachelor’s from Towson, a JD from Howard (of course), then worked for the freaking DOJ advising federal judges for immigration law, and is now back in school at Morgan State for a PhD in Public Policy/social work. One good thing, she lost a bunch of weight and is kinda attractive now.

    The afro girl now, of course, puts out briefs for the National Symposium for Debate pushing Critical Race Theory. She coaches the Binghamton University debate team and appears to be an adjunct lecturer there. She got her bachelor’s degree in Cultural Studies and became a committee member for the debate organization they won. After failing constantly, she resorted to joining the UX researcher fad.”

  7. Maybe folks won’t work now because they’re (somehow) fabulously wealthy and don’t need to. Here’s a quote from an APnews article today. We’re now living in a world where 31 year old high school guidance counselors are shopping for 950k houses:

    “Justin Casale, a high school guidance counselor in New York who’s been looking to buy a home for about a year, says he and his wife are now ruling out properties that would have been affordable a year ago when rates were far lower — and the market was far more competitive.

    Back then, they could afford a home going for up to $950,000, but to keep their monthly payment at no more than $4,000 with today’s higher mortgage rates, their price ceiling is now $750,000, said Casale, 31.”

    • They voted for the big-govt spending, too.

      I always wondered how people stupid enough to vote for big government somehow still manage to tie their shoelaces in the morning.

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