Frictional unemployment comes from voluntary transitions within an economy and is naturally occurring, even in stable/growing economies. It’s healthy for workers to choose when to leave their jobs in search of new (and often better) ones or when people enter the labor market in search of work. In this scene from The Office, Michael Scott quits after being annoyed by how his company has treated him over the past 15 years. Michael is comfortable quitting, even after it seems that he will get what he wants because he believes there is more out there for him.
Thanks to Allison Anthony for the scene suggestion!
The Island Of Misfit Toys contains a number of toys that have some sort of defect, like a polka-dotted elephant, a train with square wheels, and a Jack-in-the-Box named Charlie. The job of a toy is to entertain children, and until they can be matched with a child, they could be considered unemployed.
A lot of the toys seem to have given up hope for finding a match after being on the island for so long. As they anxiously await Christmas Eve it’s clear that some of the toys are on the brink of becoming discouraged workers. A discouraged worker is someone who has not actively looked for work in the past four weeks because they don’t believe there are any jobs available.
There are numerous characters in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) that experience some sort of job loss challenges. Hermey is an elf that doesn’t like making toys and would prefer to be a dentist. After talking with the head elf, Hermey proclaims “they can’t fire me, I quit” and leaves the toy shop. Despite being a skilled toymaker and possessing dental knowledge, Hermey is frictionally unemployed as he waits to transition to a new job.
For someone to be considered unemployed, they must actively search for employment and not be currently employed. In this scene from Mel Brooks’ History of the World, the unemployment officer asks two key questions of citizens looking for their unemployment payment:
Have you worked (killed) last week?
Did you try to work (kill) last week?
She also warns that their unemployment is about to run out and that they need to make sure that they find work, which is similar to how many unemployment systems are setup.
A lot of the recent discussion on the manufacturing industry has framed the loss of employment as a reduction in manufacturing capacity. The US manufactures more physical goods than ever, but it’s using labor as the primary input. In this segment of Adam Ruins Everything, we meet Hank who has recently been laid off from his job at the factory. In an earlier segment, Hank and Adam discuss major economic measures like GDP and Unemployment. In this segment, they discuss some of the misperceptions about manufacturing.
Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour informational comedy where host, Adam Conover, debunks popular myths. Each episode is divided into 3 segments with some common themes. In the Spring of 2018, James Tierney and I sat down to go through all three seasons of Adam Ruins Everything to pick out examples in each episode that could be used in an economics course.
In the Summer of 2020, the paper was officially published in The Journal of Economics and Finance Education, which you can read online.
In this scene, Homer and Bart are loading construction materials into their car at Builder’s Barn (a Home Depot-type store). Bart isn’t sure his dad is capable of handling the word himself when a group of immigrant day laborers offer their services. The day laborers have come from nearby Barleyville due to a recent “Barley Bust.” Homer accepts their offer and welcomes them to his home. He now feels superior because he’s able to hire workers to do jobs “we don’t want to do,” but then a hoard of laborers rushes the town of Springfield.
For a deeper look at economics and The Simpsons, check out Josh Hall’s book Homer Economicus.
Our main character Will Davis is searching the internet for job listings. He has just been let go from his internship because there were no available paying jobs and his time had run out. He is looking for the right fit, or really any fit that would make sense for him, but he’s realizing that he lacks the skills for many of the job postings he’s finding online. His friends joke that the skills he’s good at can’t get him paid.
In this video, Lil’ Dicky interviews with Snoop Dogg for a position as a professional rapper. There’s one section early in the song that looks at the concept of opportunity costs. Lil’ Dicky (David Burd) was a college graduate from University of Richmond, but decided to become a rapper instead. During the “interview” with Snoop, he mentions that he actually had a lot to lose by becoming a rapper compared to other rappers who became rappers because they had nothing else to do. Another interesting application of the video could be in teaching unemployment and focusing on skills necessary for particular jobs. Lil Dicky needs to apply for a job with Snoop because other people haven’t appreciated his rap skills.
LYRICS (emphasis added)
So real shit you ain’t never had to struggle for much
I wouldn’t say it like that, we just had a different kind of trap
Well I ain’t never had a tool, but I had to be the man at school
Like I was doing shit I had to do so when I finished undergrad
I’m cool and I can get whatever job I wanted
But the job you wanted wasn’t all that bumping
Yeah, and I saw it quick all the flaws that be coming when you grow up like that
Know you been racing them rats, you ain’t been making them raps
Boo hoo what a hardship
How you paid to get the rap shit started?
Man, my Bar Mitzvah money But don’t diss me buddy, I wasn’t one of them younguns up on the block who had nothing to lose I must’ve wanted this a lot, I had something to choose
Check out the snippet of the entire song on this tweet:
In a 1963 Labor Day interview with Walter Cronkite, President Kennedy discusses his position on handling the labor market of the United States with around 4 million unemployed (about 5.5% at the time). Kennedy notes that the growing labor force in the United States requires that if the US wants to “stand still,” they still need to move very fast. Kennedy’s main policy focus at the time was retraining workers who had been displaced by technology and making sure that significant amount of workers have the necessary education to handle the growing workforce.
Kennedy also speaks to the lost jobs in “hardcore unemployed” industries like coal and steel and how it’s important to make sure those workers are retrained because those workers are no longer needed. He then laments that there’s a different issue with older workers replaced by technology and younger workers who don’t have the education to handle that technology. Kennedy ends this portion of the interview with a very powerful quote about the fear of automation:
Too many people coming into the labor market, too many machines are throwing people out.
You can view the entire interview, courtesy of the Kennedy Presidential Library, on YouTube.
In an interview segment discussing the economy, primarily the unemployment rate, Ocasio-Cortez dismissed claims that the economy is strong because of a historically low unemployment rate because “unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family.”
The issue with this claim is, namely, that the unemployment rate does not distinguish between the number of hours that people are working, nor the number of jobs they hold. While there are a narrow set of rules to be considered unemployed, only about 5% of Americans currently hold multiple jobs:
While politicians routinely make mistakes regarding the economy (1, 2), this gaffe is particularly note-worthy because Ocasio-Cortez holds a bachelors degree in economics from Boston University.