Record Number Employed: 152,085,000; But Record 95,055,000 Not in Labor Force

Susan Jones | December 2, 2016 | 8:50am EST
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An Irvine,California couple take advantage of black Friday sales at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP, File)

( - In the first jobs report since the election, the Labor Department says a record number of people--152,085,000--were employed in November in the United States, but a record 95,055,000 Americans were not in the labor force--446,000 more than October. 

The employment growth pushed the unemployment rate down from 4.9 percent in October to 4.6 percent in November.

The number of unemployed Americans dropped in November to 7,400,000, the lowest of the Obama presidency. But the labor force participation rate also dropped a tenth of a point to 62.7 percent in November.

It should be noted that the Labor Department's Employment Situation report is released monthly, and it reflects data gathered in the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. So today's report reflects the situation as it was just days after the Nov. 8 election.

Since the election, the stock market has risen to new heights; consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, increased "significantly" in November; existing-home sales rose for a second straight month in October at the highest annualized pace in nearly a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors; and personal income  increased a healthy 0.6 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When President Obama took office -- amid a recession -- in January 2009, 80,529,000 Americans were not in the labor force, and that number rose steadily during his two terms, reaching 94,708,000 this past May, a record eclipsed in November. And the labor force participation rate, a key measure of labor force activity, reached a 38-year low of 62.4 percent on Obama's watch, in September 2015. It’s only 0.3 percent higher than that now.

Nevertheless, White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday offered some "metrics" to help reporters "judge the performance" of the incoming Trump administration.

"The first would be jobs," Earnest said. "Under President Obama and under the strategy that we have implemented, our economy has seen the largest streak of total job growth in our nation's history.

"Over the last 80 months, we've created 15.5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate has been cut in half from its peak that was reached back in 2011. So, on the jobs front, President Obama has set quite a high standard and one that will be a high bar for the next administration to live up to."

On Friday, BLS said the economy added 178,000 jobs last month.

But the sinking labor force participation rate remains a concern. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that over the 2014–2024 period, the growth of the labor force will stem entirely from population growth, as the overall labor force participation rate continues to decrease.

People over age 16 who are no longer working or looking for work are counted as not participating in the labor force.

In November, the nation’s civilian noninstitutionalized population, consisting of all people age 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 254,540,000.  Of those, a record 152,085,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.

The 152,085,000 who participated in the labor force equaled 62.7 percent of the 254,540,000 civilian noninstitutionalized population.

Economists say retiring Baby Boomers account for some of the slide in the labor force participation rate. But as the Labor Department recently noted, more people over the age of 55 are working.

In a mid-November blog, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said by 2024, nearly 1 in 4 workers are projected to be 55 or older.

Aside from demographics (the aging Baby Boomers and young people choosing school over work), the blog estimates around 60 percent of older workers are retiring from "career" jobs and taking part-time or short-term "bridge" jobs before fully retiring.

The reasons for older Americans remaining in the labor force vary, ranging from people wishing to remain active given their longer life expectancies; changes to retirement plans; increases in the Social Security retirement age; and a desire to maintain company-sponsored health coverage.

Among the major worker groups, the November unemployment rate for adult men declined to 4.3 percent in November. The rates for adult women (4.2 percent), teenagers (15.2 percent), Whites (4.2 percent), Blacks (8.1 percent), Asians (3.0 percent), and Hispanics (5.7 percent) showed little or no change over the month.

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