The current U.S. economic expansion is unusually long and strong. Has it served as a "rising tide" to float all boats in the labor market-benefiting everyone? To what degree are groups that are typically disadvantaged in the labor market-blacks, women, teens, the less educated-participating in the current prosperity? To investigate the effects of economic expansion (or recession) on various labor market groups, this article presents data that describe the patterns of labor force status by race, sex, education, and age (teens) during recent decades.
The author finds that while virtually all groups are seeing improvements in labor market outcomes in the current expansion, the gaps between disadvantaged groups and the rest of the economy are shrinking more in some cases than in others. Moreover, even the strong and long expansion of the 1990s has not reduced the gaps to zero. She finds that the analogy with the tide breaks down when one asks whether a strong economy raises all boats to the same level; disadvantaged groups still have above-average unemployment (and black men have below-average employment rates) in the best of times. The ongoing problem is that the status of being left out or slower-gaining remains disproportionately concentrated among blacks and teens, where the gaps remain sizable.