African American Labor Force Participation Hits 31-Year Low

By Ali Meyer | November 12, 2013 | 8:20am EST

(AP Photo)

( - The labor force participation rate for African Americans hit a 31-year low in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, the overall labor force participation rate in the United States hit a 35-year low (see related story).

In September, the African American labor force participation rate was 61.3 percent. In October, it dropped to 60.7 percent--the lowest it has been since June 1982.

The labor force, according to BLS, is that part of the civilian non-institutional population that either has a job or has actively sought one in the last four weeks. The civilian non-institutional population consists of people 16 or older, who are not in the military or an institution.

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The BLS has tracked African American participation in the labor force since 1972. Since than, African American participation peaked at 66.4 percent in September 1999, when Bill Clinton was president and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

In January 2009, when President Barack Obama took office, the African American labor force participation rate was 63.3 percent. By January of this year, it had declined to 61.7 percent, and since then has dropped another full point to 60.7 percent.

The overall labor force participation rate has also been declining. It peaked at 67.3 percent in each of the first four months of 2000, and dropped to 65.7 percent by the time Obama took office in January 2009. Since then, it has dropped to 62.8 percent.

The overall national unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in October and the unemployment rate among African Americans was 13.1 That is up from an unemployment rate of 12.9 percent for African Americans in September. In January 2009, when Obama took office, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 12.7 percent.

Individuals who have stopped looking for work do not count in the unemployment rate or in the labor force participation rate.

Since President Obama took office, the overall number of people not in the labor force has increased from 80,507,000 to 91,541,000. During that same period, the number of African Americans not in the labor force increased from 10,305,000 to 11,988,000.

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