Added and Discouraged Workers in the Late 1930s: A Re-Examination
T. Aldrich Finegan, Robert A. Margo
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 45
We revisit a famous controversy in labor economics: the debate between W.S. Woytinsky and Clarence Long over "added" and "discouraged" worker effects in the late 1930s. According to Woytinsky, the Depression created large numbers of added workers, persons who entered the labor force when the head of the household became unemployed. Long, on the other hand, believed that the number of added workers was trivial compared with the number of discouraged workers, and subsequent research has largely supported Long. Using a sample of married women drawn from the public use sample of the 1940 census, we show that added worker effect was alive and well in the late 1930s, but that its viability was muted by the operation of work relief. Wives whose husbands held "public emergency work relief" jobs with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or related agencies were far less likely to participate in the labor force than wives whose husbands were employed in a private sector or non-relief government job, or whose husbands were unemployed, so much so that the added worker effect disappears in the aggregate if the impact of work relief is ignored.
Published: Journal of Economic History, Volume 54 (March 1994): 64-84