The current economic recovery has been under way since 2009, making it one of the longer periods of continuous economic growth in American history. But it has also been one of the most sluggish recoveries on record. The economy just isn't creating as many jobs — or pushing wages up as quickly — as it did in previous decades.
On Friday, the Labor Department released new data showing the performance of the labor market in April. And it continued the pattern of the past couple of years. The economy added 160,000 jobs, a bit below the 200,000-per-month average of the past couple of years:
Wages have grown 2.5 percent over the last year — a respectable figure given that the inflation rate was only about 1 percent during the same period.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5 percent.
But the most disappointing statistic in this month's numbers is the labor force participation rate. This figure shows the fraction of the workforce that is either working or looking for work. Normally, this figure falls during recessions and then goes back up during economic recoveries. But it fell from 2008 until 2015 — a sign that the economy wasn't growing robustly enough to lure back workers who had left the workforce. Over the past six months, the labor force participation rate had started to rise, a hopeful reversal of that trend.
But in April, the LFPR declined by 0.2 percent. That obviously could prove to be a blip if the LFPR sees big gains in future months. Still, it seems like another sign that the economy has yet to deliver the kind of rapid growth the country has been hoping for.