A “conundrum” is “an intricate and difficult problem” or “a question or problem having only a conjectural answer.”*
In his June 8 article, “The Jobs Conundrum,” economist Gerald P. O’Driscoll focuses on a very big problem that we do not have sure answers to, yet.
Unemployment figures are down, but the number of non-working adults in the prime of their lives is up. O’Driscoll explains: “Unemployment” is a term of art and does not mean simply the number of people not working. It comprises the number of people not working and who are looking for a job.” Many aren’t “unemployed” for the simple reason that they are not trying to be employed.
They are, I suppose you could say, in early retirement, mostly a kind of poverty retirement.
Economists call it a drop in “labor force participation.” It used to be that men in the prime of life not looking for work constituted a mere 6 percent of the population. Now it’s 15 percent.
O’Driscoll, I notice, doesn’t engage in much conjecture to explain why. He merely insists, instead, that the trend is big, unemployment figures don’t track it, and that it has huge consequences.
I’ve heard some interesting (and puzzling) theories about the whys, of course. Blame feminism; blame the welfare state; blame the Chinese!
But even before we settle on a definitive answer, many movers and shakers now contemplate establishing — and are even experimenting with — a universal basic income as a way to alleviate this problem.
My conjecture? It would make the problem worse.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
* The original, primary meaning of “conundrum” — “a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun” — is not relevant to this pun-free column.