96,845,000: Record Number of Americans Not in the Labor Force

Susan Jones | April 3, 2020 | 6:51am EDT
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A sign post in the window of a Main Street business in Walnut Creek, California, March 24, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
A sign post in the window of a Main Street business in Walnut Creek, California, March 24, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The number of Americans counted as "not in the labor force," meaning they did not have a job and were not looking for one, increased by 1,763,000 to a record 96,845,000 in March, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday.

This "not in the labor force" number reached its previous record high of 96,297,000 in August 2018, during President Trump's tenure, driven largely by Baby Boom retirees. BLS notes that many of those who are not in the labor force are retired, going to school, or have family responsibilities that keep them out of the labor force.

Going forward, widespread business closures are expected to produce millions more people who have no job and are not looking for one because there are fewer places to look, at least through April and maybe longer.

After breaking 25 records under President Donald Trump--most recently in December 2019--the number of employed Americans dropped sharply in March, to 155,772,000, BLS reported.

That's a drop of 2,987,000 from the near-record 158,759,000 Americans counted as working in February. People are considered employed if they did any work at all, even part-time or temporary, for pay or profit during the survey reference week – the week of March 12 in the case of today’s report.

At the same time, the number of unemployed Americans increased by 1,353,000 in March to 7,140,000. People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, but actively looked for work in the prior four weeks, and are currently available for work.

The March unemployment rate--which registered a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in February--jumped to 4.4 percent in March, a 0.9 point increase and the largest month-over-month increase since January 1975. And that's just for starters.

As CNSNews.com reported, the monthly employment numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflect the pay period that includes the 12th of the month--or March 12, in the case of today's report.

But the May unemployment report will reference the week of April 12, when many of the states’ “stay-at-home” orders had taken effect, and that report is expected to reflect a more devastating picture than what BLS released today.

Nevertheless, today's report is grim enough.

While the economy created 275,000 jobs (revised number) in February, it lost a whopping 701,000 in March.

The labor force participation rate, which reached a Trump-era high of 63.4 percent this past January and February, dropped to 62.7 percent in March.

In March, the civilian non-institutional population in the United States was 259,758,000. That included all people 16 and older who did not live in an institution (such as a prison, nursing home or long-term care facility).

Of that civilian non-institutional population, 162,913,000 were participating in the labor force, meaning that they either had a job or were actively seeking one during the last month. This resulted in a labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent, down from the Trump-era high of 63.4 percent set in January and February.

The participation rate was 62.8 percent when Trump took office, and it has showed little change, at least until now, as retiring baby boomers offset additions to the nation's workforce.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, "Changes in labor force participation have significant economic and budgetary implications. A lower labor force participation rate is associated with lower gross domestic product (GDP) and lower tax revenues. It is also associated with larger federal outlays, because people who are not in the labor force are more likely to enroll in certain federal benefit programs.”

BLS on Friday noted that the March data "broadly reflect some of the early effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the labor market.

"We cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March. However, it is clear that the decrease in employment| and hours and the increase in unemployment can be ascribed to effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus. It is important to keep in mind that the March survey reference periods for both surveys predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures in the second half of the month."

In March, unemployment rates rose among all major worker groups. The rate was 4.0 percent for adult men, 4.0 percent for adult women, 14.3 percent for teenagers, 4.0 percent for Whites, 6.7 percent for Blacks, 4.1 percent for Asians, and 6.0 percent for Hispanics.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised down by 59,000 from +273,000 to +214,000, and the change for February was revised up by 2,000 from +273,000 to +275,000. With these revisions, employment gains in January and February combined were 57,000 lower than previously reported.

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