Record 94,610,000 Americans Not in Labor Force; Participation Rate Lowest in 38 Years

By Susan Jones | October 2, 2015 | 8:56 AM EDT

(AP File Photo)

( - A record 94,610,000 Americans were not in the American labor force last month -- an increase of 579,000 from August -- and the labor force participation rate reached its lowest point in 38 years, with 62.4 percent of the U.S. population either holding a job or actively seeking one.

In other disappointing news, the economy added only 142,000 jobs in September, well below economists' expectations, but the unemployment rate remained at 5.1 percent, where it was in August.

The number of Americans not in the labor force has continued to rise, partly because of retiring baby-boomers and fewer workers entering the workforce.


In September, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population, consisting of all people 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 251,325,000. Of those, 156,715,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.

The 156,715,000 who participated in the labor force equaled only 62.4 percent of the 251,325,000 civilian noninstitutional population. The last time the labor force participation was as low as 62.4 percent was in October 1977. (The rate had been 62.6 percent for the 3 months prior to September.)

The participation rate dropped for both men 20 years and older (the 71.3 percent in September is a record low in BLS data going back to 1948). It also dropped for women 16 years and older (56.4 percent participation rate in September compared with 56.7 percent in the two preceeding months).

Last month, 56,647,000 women 16 and older were not in the labor force, an increase of 394,000 from August and up 1,066,000 from September 2014.

That number also rose for men: In September, 32,387,000 men age 20 and older were not in the labor force, up 202,000 from August and an increase of 804,000 from September 2014.

Other notes from Friday's jobs report:

-- In September, 1.9 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by 305,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job some time in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

-- The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (involuntary part-time workers) declined by 447,000 to 6.0 million in September. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

--Health care added 34,000 jobs in September, in line with the average increase of 38,000 jobs per month over the prior 12 months. Hospitals accounted for 16,000 of the jobs gained in September, and employment in ambulatory health care services continued to trend up (up 13,000).

--Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (4.7 percent), adult women (4.6 percent), teenagers (16.3 percent), whites (4.4 percent), blacks (9.2 percent), Asians (3.6 percent), and Hispanics (6.4 percent) showed little or no change in September.

-- In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls, at $25.09, changed little (down one cent), following a 9-cent gain in August.

-- The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised from a gain of 245,000 jobs to a gain of 223,000 jobs; and the change for August was revised from a gain of 173,000 jobs to a gain of only 136,000. With these revisions, employment gains in July and August combined were 59,000 less than previously reported.