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Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who edited a book on the subject for the National Bureau of Economic Research, said it’s a frustrating reality of his profession: That those things he knows as facts are disputed by the populace.
"If you polled the average American they probably would think the opposite," he said. "There’s a lot of things economists say that people don’t get and this is just one of them."
Fighting the ‘lump of labor’ theory
The theory April Yanyuan Wu and other economists are fighting is known as “lump of labor,” and it has maintained traction in the U.S., particularly in a climate of high unemployment. The theory dates to 1851 and says if a group enters the labor market — or in this case, remains in it beyond their normal retirement date — others will be unable to gain employment or will have their hours cut.
It’s a line of thinking that has been used in the U.S. immigration debate and in Europe to validate early retirement programs, and it relies on a simple premise: That there are a fixed number of jobs available. In fact, most economists dispute this. When women entered the workforce, there weren’t fewer jobs for men. The economy simply expanded. The same is true with older workers, they argue.
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