Six southern US metro areas: part 5 – reasons for labor force non-participation

Part five in the series of blog posts on six mid-sized southern US cities looks at why people are not participating in the labor force (not employed and not looking for work).

The six areas of interest are: the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, TN-GA combined statistical area, the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg, SC combined statistical area, the Asheville, NC center-based statistical area, the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA combined statistical area, the Huntsville, AL center-based statistical area, and the Knoxville, TN center-based statistical area. See the first post in the series for more background.

The source for these results is 24 months of aggregated Current Population Survey microdata, covering January to December in 2017 and 2018. Because I am using the CPS, it’s important to remember that all blog posts in the series look only at civilian, non-institutionalized people. The US has a large military and a very very large prison population, but neither are included in the survey results or in this analysis.

Employed or caring for house/family

As discussed in the previous post, the primary explanation for differences between employment rates of men and women is that women are more likely to do unpaid work in the home, such as caring for children or elderly relatives. The share of men and women who are primarily “working” (either employed or caring for house or family) is pretty much identical, with a few exceptions.

epopcare

Among people age 16-64 in the US as a whole, men (76.9%) are slightly more likely to be employed or in a care role. The story is the same in five of the six areas of interest, though the gap between men and women is a bit larger in each of the five, compared to the US as a whole. The biggest gap between men and women is in Huntsville, where 77.7% of men and 73.4% of women are employed or in care roles. In Asheville, women are slightly more likely than men to be employed or in care roles.

In two areas, Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol and Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, men and women are both quite a bit less likely to be employed or in care roles than the US average. In contrast, in the Knoxville area, the opposite is true; both men and women are more likely to be employed or in care roles than those in the US as a whole.

Other reasons for non-participation

Beyond care roles, there are large differences between the areas in the other reasons for non-participation in the labor force (people who are not employed or looking for work). Other reasons for non-participation include people that are in school (more likely among 16-24 year olds) and that are retired (more likely among 55-64 year olds). A substantial portion of the population is also not employed primarily because of disability or illness. Some are also discouraged, meaning they want a job but have stopped looking for work because they do not believe one is available for them.

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In the US as a whole, about six percent of men and women are not in the labor force due to disability. A smaller share of the population, about 4.5%, are in this category in Asheville. Likewise, women in Huntsville are slightly less likely to be out of the labor force due to disability or illness, compared to the US a whole. In Knoxville, the share is near the US average. In contrast, the share of men in the Chattanooga area (9.7%), women (8.9%) and men (8.3%) in the Greenville area, and men in the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol area (8.6%) who are not in the labor force due to disability or illness is well above the US average. The most striking instance is among women in Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, where 12.1% of the age 16-64 population is not in the labor force because of disability or illness.

If someone can explain why non-participation from disability is twice the national average for women in Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, please leave a comment. My speculation would be something like factory closures. Physically demanding jobs, like factory work, can lead to disability or illness. When factories close, people are left without job opportunities (often the factory is the main employer in the area), and with the scars of the their former job, thus are more likely to leave the labor force and more likely to be disabled.

Another major reason for non-participation is retirement. Among 16-64 year olds, women are more likely to be retired in the US as a whole and in each of the six areas. Partially this is because women make up a larger share of 55-64 year olds. In Asheville, where the population is older than the US average, the retired share of the age 16-64 population is much higher than in the US as a whole or in the other five areas of interest.

People who are not employed because they are in school make up about seven percent of the age 16-64 US population. This rate is pretty consistent across the six areas, with two exceptions. Women in Huntsville are more likely to be in school and not employed, and women in the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol area are less likely to be in school and not employed.

Finally, about two percent of the US age 16-64 population wants a job but has given up looking for one because they do not believe one is available for them. This could be because there is a lack of jobs for people with their skills, or because of discrimination. The discouraged worker share of the population is near or slightly less than the US average in five of the six areas, with the one exception being for women in the Chattanooga area, who are slightly more likely than women nationwide to be discouraged.

The next blog post in the series will look at reasons for unemployment, who is unemployed, and duration of unemployment. The jupyter notebook used in the analysis above can be found here.

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