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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Misleading Graphs on Labor Force Participation

Philip Bump at WP:
Earlier this month, [Tucker] Carlson ran a segment focused on the decline of men in the workforce. To bolster his point, part of his broader effort to cast American men as endlessly embattled — “The thing about men is they kind of need to work,” he said in the segment — he showed graphs of the labor force participation rate by gender. (That’s the percentage of working-age Americans who are working or looking for work.)

Here, as reported by the Daily Beast, is what Carlson showed.
Man line go down; woman line go up. Done and done. Cable news success.

Yet there are two big problems here. The more immediate is that the vertical axis on the female participation rate graph is mislabeled. It doesn’t range from 65 to 90 since the labor force participation rate for women has never been higher than 60.3 percent. It’s not really clear what happened here. Notice that the grid lines don’t actually line up with the axis labels anyway. It’s just a mess.

But that leads to the bigger problem. The labor force participation rate for men has always been higher than that of women. Here are the same data, with two changes: a vertical axis that runs from 0 to 100 and both measures shown at once. There is still a long-term decline in the participation rate for men — but also for women over the past decade or so.