That is the next (and for me final) NBER paper from the macro workshop, by Barnichon and Figura, the pdf is here. Their main claim is quite startling, and very important if true. Here is the abstract:
The US labor market has witnessed two apparently unrelated trends in the last 30 years:a decline in unemployment between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, and a decline in labor force participation since the early 2000s. We show that a substantial factor behind both trends is a decline in desire to work among individuals outside the labor force, with a particularly strong decline during the second half of the 90s. A decline in desire to work lowers both the unemployment rate and the participation rate, because a nonparticipant who wants to work has a high probability to join the unemployment pool in the future, while a nonparticipant who does not want to work has a low probability to ever enter the labor force. We use cross-sectional variation to estimate a model of nonparticipants’ propensity to want a job, and we find that changes in the provision of welfare and social insurance, possibly linked to the mid-90s welfare reforms, explain about 50 percent of the decline in desire to work.
We conjecture that two mechanisms could explain these results. First, the EITC expansion raised family income and reduced secondary earnersís (typically women) incentives to work. Second, the strong work requirements introduced by the AFDC/TANF reform would have, through a kind of “sink or swim” experience, left the “weaker” welfare recipients without welfare and pushed them away from the labor force and possibly into disability insurance.