Americans’ Participation in Labor Force Hits 35-Year Low

By Ali Meyer | November 12, 2013 | 11:33 AM EST

(AP Photo)

(  The percentage of American civilians 16 or older who have a job or are actively seeking one dropped to a 35-year low in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In September, the labor force participation rate was 63.2 percent, but in October it dropped to 62.8 percent—the lowest it has been since February 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president.

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

At no time during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, did such a small percentage of the civilian non-institutional population either hold a job or at least actively seek one.

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The BLS has been calculating the national labor force participation rate since 1948. From that year until 2000, when labor force participation peaked at 67.3 percent, the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population that either held a job or was seeking one generally was on the rise. Since 2000, the percentage has been trending down.

When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the labor force participation rate was 65.7 percent. By the beginning of 2013, the start of Obama’s second term, it had dropped to 63.6 percent. Since this January, it has continued to decline, hitting a 35-year low of 62.8 percent in October.

When someone drops out of the labor force and ceases to actively seek a job, they are no longer counted as “unemployed.” The BLS counts as “unemployed” only those who have actively sought a job in the last four weeks. The unemployment rate is the percentage of people in the labor force who did not have a job in the last four weeks but were actively seeking one.

People in the civilian noninstitutional population who did not have a job and did not actively seek one in the last four weeks are considered “not in the labor force.” The number of Americans not in the labor force has climbed by 11,034,000 since Obama took office, rising from 80,507,000 in January 2009 to 91,541,000 in October.

Despite the 11,034,000 who have dropped out of the labor force since Obama took office, the national unemployment rate has remained at a relatively high level. In January 2009, it was 7.8 percent. Since then, it has never dropped below 7.2 percent, the level it hit this September before rising to 7.3 percent this October. October was the 59th straight month of 7-percent-plus unemployment in the United States.

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