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October 22, 2015

One big question mark in the recovery from the Great Recession is people who are out of the labor force entirely — they're not employed and they're not looking for work. They've been growing as a portion of the American population since the late 1990s, and spiked after the Great Recession. So everyone's wondering if this shift is permanent, or if a lot of these people can be brought back in.

A new analysis by The Wall Street Journal suggests a fair number of them can.

(Graph courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

A lot of people dropped out of the labor force either by staying in school or by retiring early. Neither solution is great: more education comes with more student debt, and early retirement means reduced benefits. But they may be the best option for people when jobs are scarce. Obviously, we may run out of time to get early retirees back into the labor market. But a lot of people in school can obviously be brought back in, if we get job growth going again.

Another big story here is the rise of disability as a form of early retirement (in light blue). There's a fair amount of evidence disability benefits have risen to offset the decay of workers' compensation programs. But disability itself is also relative: If you've injured your back and can't do manual labor, but a lackluster economy means there are no desk jobs in your community, or it's too late for you to acquire the skills for a desk job, then you're disabled for all intents and purposes. So this category is at least somewhat amenable to more robust job growth as well.

In short, with the right macroeconomic policies to restore job growth and full employment, there's every reason to think labor force participation can be brought back up. Jeff Spross

December 31, 2014

A stylus pen? Really, Apple?

(United States Patent and Trademark Office)

Apple has been granted a patent for a "communicating stylus" that would allow users to write on any digital surface. The filing was made public Tuesday. The patent suggests the stylus may use a mobile internet connection to communicate with different devices and may also contain material that would allow users to actually mark up the surface they are writing on.

Stylus pens have actually been around for more than 50 years and were big in the '90s when those clunky personal digital assistants first came on the tech scene. Oddly, it was the touch-screen ability, a la the iPhone, that began to usurp the popularity of stylus-driven devices. And with finger pay-and-sign programs like Square, you have to wonder why we'd backtrack to a pen device anyway.

Of course, Apple wouldn't be the first to use the pen. Samsung smartphones like the Galaxy Note Edge have a stylus.

And, to be fair, this patent only protects the tech company in case it decides to manufacture the pen in the future. It doesn't mean Apple will actually produce it. But, if they do, here's hoping it comes with undisclosed magical powers. Lauren Hansen