Tuesday, August 1, 2017


In comments at Economists View, cm said

I noticed that the old definition of the working age population, 16+, has been discontinued and replaced with the new definition, 15-64.

Well that's a pretty big deal. I half-noticed a change of definition myself recently, but I thought it was my own confusion. Is cm right about a definition change?

In Technical Notes (a PDF from the BLS), subtitled "International Comparisons of Annual Labor Force Statistics, 1970-2012", we read:

The lower age limit of the working-age population according to U.S. concepts is 16 while most foreign countries collect data on the working-age population ages 15 and older. In addition, some countries may have an upper age limit.

Yeah: "some countries may have an upper age limit." Like everybody but the U.S.

That excerpt seems to support cm's "old definition". However, the PDF is undated; I can't tell how old it is. And it might be pretty old, as it doesn't work well with CTRL-C and CTRL-V. So I'm not getting a good answer to my question.

I see FRED has a series titled Working Age Population: Aged 15-64: All Persons for the United States© (LFWA64TTUSM647S). But that series is from the OECD and is compatible with the "foreign countries" approach: the count begins at age 15, not 16; and there is an upper age limit.

Ah-ha! FRED also has the BLS data. But it's discontinued: It ends in 2012. Actually, that's what cm said: discontinued.

Here are the two series together, for comparison:

Graph #1: Two Measures of the U.S. Working-Age Population
Start with the BLS data, the blue line. Add to it people who are 15 years old; this makes the blue line higher. Then subtract everyone who is 65 years old or older. That brings the blue line down to where the red line is. Theoretically.

In the notes below the graph at FRED, something interesting about the BLS data:

FRED has a monthly series that’s a continuation to this discontinued data series.
The series can be found at https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CNP16OV

Add that series to the graph and it's a good match to the discontinued series. So what do we learn? That the U.S. working-age population is essentially (i.e. by definition) the same as "Civilian Noninstitutional Population". That definition, from the "CNP16OV" series notes:

Civilian noninstitutional population is defined as persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, who are not inmates of institutions (e.g., penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

So the working-age population and the civilian noninstitutional population are the same (for the U.S.). Okay. Age 16 and older, still today. So maybe, what with the discontinuation of the U.S. "working-age" series and the availability of the OECD version of it, maybe that's what cm was talking about when he said the old definition was replaced with a new definition. Yeah. Exactly.

At first I thought cm meant the definition (in words) was changed. That doesn't seem to be the case.

I wonder if U.S. data is available for how many people are 15 years old, or for how many are 65 or over.

Actually, I can see the U.S. excluding 15-year-olds from the "working-age" count. Maybe child labor laws are tougher in the U.S. than in OECD countries. If they're less civilized than us, so be it! But I can't see counting every old duffer that hasn't died yet as still of working age.

Bur maybe that's part of my pre-2008 mentality. In that comment at Economists View, cm did point out another change we need to account for:

... we don't want to ruin the employment rate with all these people who are supposedly retiring in droves, never mind that many of them keep working (or seeking to work) past 65, if they can.

I dunno how to account for that.