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Economy in Brief

U.S. Labor Force Participation Falls
by Tom Moeller  February 18, 2011

The slack job market has caused participation in the labor force to fall to its lowest since 1984. Last year, of the eligible population of 237.8 million, the participation rate fell to 64.7%. Of the 85.5 million who weren't in the labor force as recently as last month, 6.6 million want a job now, the highest since 1994 when this figure was first tallied and up from 4.7 million in 2007. The job market is so poor that 1.173 million wanted a job but were discouraged from looking for one, up from 262,000 in 2000. Were these individuals in the labor force and unemployed, the unemployment rate would have been closer to 11% instead of the official 9.6%.

The detailed data indicate that participation in the labor force is down sharply by age and sex, most notably for young males. For these individuals the rate fell to 35.2% last month from its high over 60.0% in the early 1980s. For teenage women the rate also was down to 34.0% from its high of 54.0% in the 1989. For the adult population, the downward direction is the same. For adult men, the labor force participation rate fell to 73.2% last month from its high just under 90% just after WWII. For adult women, their determination to stay in the labor force has been stronger and the rate just slipped to 60.0% from its high of 60.9% in 2008.

Data on participation rates can be found in Haver's USECON and EMPLR databases.

Labor Force Participation January December 2010 2009 2008
Labor Force Participation Rate - Overall 64.2% 64.3% 64.7% 65.4% 66.0%
   Males - 20 years and over 73.2 73.6 74.1 74.8 75.7
   Males - 16 to 19 35.2 34.5 34.9 37.3 40.1
   Women - 20 years and over 60.0 60.1 60.4 60.8 60.9
   Women 16 to 19 34.0 34.1 35.0 37.6 40.2
Not in Labor Force 86.2M 85.7M 83.9M 81.7M 79.5M
   Persons Who Currently Want a Job 6.6 6.2 6.1 5.9 5.0
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