JULY BLS: +209,000 jobs, Unemp. rate up to 6.2%. Details HERE! Jobs since Obama took office? HERE Unemp. rate under Obama? HERE

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who are Those People "Not in Labor Force"?

Breaking down the "Not in the Labor Force" pie:


As usual, whenever the unemployment rate ticks down, the naysayers will point out--- with alarm--- the increasing number of people who are "not in the labor (work) force". The assumption seems to be that the job situation is so miserable that people are dropping out of the labor force by the droves.

Are people really dropping out of the labor force?

Well... "dropping out" of the labor force for whatever reason, including  despair of not finding a job, is not the definition of "not in the labor force". 


How do you get to be "not in the labor force"?

People "not in the labor force" first of all, have to be in the "civilian non-institutional population age 16+";  in other words:


  • At least age 16, 
  • Not in the military,
  • Not in prison, not in a nursing home or similar institution.
  • There is no upper age limit to the civilian non-institutional population age 16+, so 85 year old grandmas would be counted as "not in the labor force" if they live at home or with family. 
To be "not in the labor force", people are not employed  at all, not full time, not part time, not self-employed.  They can also not be actively searching for work.  If they have been actively searching for work in the past four weeks, they are considered to be "unemployed".  (If a person is unemployed, "actively searching for work" according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have made at least one attempt to find work in the prior four weeks through such means as submitting an application, going for an interview, or talking to a potential employer.)

Let's repeat this:  


  • People in the civilian non-institutional population who are actively, officially unemployed are IN the labor force.
  • People in the civilian non-institutional population who are employed (full-time, part-time, self-employed) are IN the labor force.
  • All other people in the civilian non-institutional population are NOT IN the labor force.


How do people "drop out of the labor force"?

They stop working and/or they stop looking for work.  There are a few exceptions:  People who are on temporary layoff from their jobs are in the labor force and are counted as unemployed.  People who are ill or on vacation but have a job and intend to return to work ARE in the labor force and are counted as employed.

People may leave the labor force if they quit their jobs to stay home with their children, if they become disabled and cannot work, if they retire.  Also young people in high school or college may not be working and may not be looking for work while they are enrolled in school.        

But "dropping out of the labor force" is not necessarily the same as being "not in the labor force".  When young people turn 16 years old, unless they have a job or are actively looking for a job, they are "not in the labor force" by definition.  Since they never were in the labor force, they haven't dropped out.


Also assuming that people who leave the labor force do so because they are in despair about not finding a job is a very bad, very misleading assumption, as you will see at the bottom of this page in the discussion of labor market "flows".      


What about all of those people dropping out of the labor force in April 2012?

 
Last month, April 2012, the unemployment rate fell to 8.1%, with 12,500,000 people actively looking for work.  Though the number of unemployed people fell, the total number of people employed also fell in April.  As a result, there are about 300,000 fewer people "in the labor force" (either employed or actively looking for work) in April.

Now, any monthly variation should be taken with a grain of salt.  As it is, we have over 2,300,000 more people employed than we did a year ago and about 1,300,000 fewer people officially unemployed.  The labor force (work force) as a whole is about 1,000,000 people larger than it was a year ago.

In any event, as the size of the labor force decreased in April, and the number of people "not in the labor force" increased to 88,879,000, the Republicans and other critics jumped upon this increase to surmise that all of these people are leaving the labor force in some stage of misery, discouraged because they cannot find work.  They use this number, the number of people "not in the labor force" as evidence of some kind of "failure" on the part of President Obama.      

The reality is different.  Considering all of the hullabaloo about "people dropping out of the labor force", this chart may surprise you:

Why are People "Not in the Labor Force"?



































What we know and don't know about people "not in the labor force"


First, we have no idea WHY most people are not in the labor force; that is, we don't know why someone stopped working, is no longer looking for work,  or never worked or looked for work, which is the definition of  "not in the labor force". Did they retire? Go to school? Stay home with a baby? Become disabled? Did they stop looking for work because they gave up on finding work?       Are they independently wealthy and don't need to work? 

We DO know, however, how many people not in the labor force (who aren't working or actively looking for work) "want a job", and we have some figures on why those people who "want a job" have not looked for work in the past month. We also have a good idea about how many might be so discouraged that they decided to stop looking for work.  We know more about the 16-24 year old crowd and how many of them are or are not still in school.  


People Age 55+ 

Yep, that big green piece of pie on the chart above represents 45,800,000 people who are 55+ years of age and claim that they DO NOT want a job.  That is over half of the 88,900,000 people in the "civilian non-institutional population age 16+" who are "not in the labor force". 

Notice the relatively tiny slivers of people in this age bracket who want a job but have not looked in the past year (bright pink sliver), and the even smaller sliver of people in this age bracket who want a job and HAVE  actually looked for work in the past year (yellow sliver).  Over all, 53% of the people not in the labor force are 55 or over.  That's 47,400,000 out of 88,900,000.  To repeat, of the 47,400,000 people 55+ and over not in the labor force, 45,800,000, or 96.7%, say that they DO NOT want a job.  As we said above, over half of the people NOT in the LABOR FORCE are in that one big bucket.


People Aged 25-54

We know less and can surmise less about the 25-54 year olds who are not in the labor force.  Again very few of them "want a job" when compared to the people in this age group who DO NOT "want a job".  We can assume that many in this group are people are home with children, but we don't know this from any statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We know that there are about 23,244,000 people aged 25 to 54 who are not in the labor force and that most of them, 20,613,000 (88.7%) do NOT want a job.  Those people are represented by the aqua blue pie piece.  The smaller slivers of pie represent people who are not in the labor force but want a job and HAVE looked for work within the past year (coral sliver of pie) and people who are not in the labor force but want a job who HAVE NOT looked for work in the past year (silver sliver of pie).  



People Aged 16 - 24


The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes people who are 16 or over, not in the military, and not institutionalized as part of the "civilian non-institutional population".  This includes young people in high school and college.  


It should not be surprising that a very low percentage of these young people,  47%, are "in the labor force"; that is, they are either employed or actively looking for work.  Also, most people in this age group who are "in the labor force" are either working part-time or looking for part-time vs. full-time work.  Very few teenagers who say they want work want full-time work.  


The overwhelming majority of people who are "not in the labor force" in this age group are people who are in school (red piece of pie).  A much smaller population is not in school and not in the labor force (blue piece of pie).  In this group of people who are not in school and not in the labor force, women outnumber men about 2 to 1, so we can assume that at least some of these people are not in the labor force because they are tending young children.  


The Civilian Labor Force numbers

There are 242,784,000 people in the "civilian non-institutional population 16+" in this country in April 2012.  153,905,000 are in the civilian work force, meaning they are either employed or actively looking for work.  88,879,000 are "not in the labor force" meaning they are NOT employed or earning money through labor and they haven't looked for work in the past month, though they may have been employed or looked for work in the past year.  (The numbers used in this graph are seasonally unadjusted "raw" numbers.)    



Breakdown of those "Not in the Labor Force"
 

The pie represents the breakdown of the 88,879,000 people not in the labor force:

Age 16 - 24:  18,216,000 people


  • In school:  14,777,000  (red piece of pie - 16.6% of pie)
  • Not in school:  3,439,000 (blue piece of pie - 3.9% of pie)
  • (Note:  Some of both groups want a job (2,113,000 in total), with 1,048,000 having looked in the past year.  This is not broken down on the pie chart above.) 
Age 25 - 54:  23,244,000 people
  • DO NOT want a job:  20,613,000 (aqua blue piece of pie - 23.2% of pie)
  • Say they want a job but HAVE NOT looked in the past year:  1,281,000 (silver piece of pie - 1.4% of pie)
  • Want a job and HAVE LOOKED in the past year:  1,350,000 (coral piece of pie - 1.5% of pie)
Age 55+:  47,419,000 people
  • DO NOT want a job:  45,836,000 (green piece of pie - 51.6% of pie)
  • Say they want a job but HAVE NOT looked in the past year:  939,000 (yellow piece of pie - 1.1% of pie)  
  • Want a job and HAVE LOOKED in the past year:  644,000 (pink piece of pie - 0.7% of pie)  
Labor Force "Flows"
The labor force is very volatile.  Millions of people are hired, fired, or quit their jobs every month.  Millions join and leave the labor force every month.  The monthly jobs reports use "net" numbers, so the number of people employed this month, for instance, is equivalent to the number of people who were working in the last month PLUS the number of people who were hired in the last month MINUS the number of people who were "separated" (quit, laid off, fired, retired) in the last month.  When we have more people hired than people who quit, were laid off, or retired, we have INCREASES in jobs and employment.  When we have more people who quit, are laid off, or retired than we have people who were hired, we have DECREASES in jobs and employment.
The "flows" reports tell us how many people moved from employed to unemployed or "not in the labor force" to employed every month.  
In April 2012, 3,966,000 people who were employed in March left their jobs and are not looking for other jobs.  Retired?  Disabled?  Taking a temporary break from employment?  We really don't know, but we do know that they had a job and now they aren't even looking for work.  Despair?  If they aren't looking for work?  Hardly likely.  Meanwhile, this group is offset by 3,565,000 people who were not in the labor force in March who looked and found jobs.  We have 401,000 people "net" who were employed but are now not in the labor force.  

Meanwhile, 2,669,000 people who were unemployed (actively looking for work)  in March 2012 stopped searching for work for some reason, perhaps including despair, but we don't know that for sure.  This group was offset by 2,753,000 people who were not in the labor force in March but started looking for work (and thus became officially unemployed) in April.  So we actually had 84,000 more people JOINING the labor force and looking for work than we had people leaving the job search for whatever reason.    

The bottom line of "flows" is that the increase in people "not in the labor force" came from people leaving employment, NOT people giving up job searches for whatever reason, including despair.  
More information about people "Not in the Labor Force" and the Labor Participation Rate HERE.
The numbers for this article were taken primarily from these two Bureau of Labor Statistics charts:  Persons not in the labor force by desire and availability for work and Employment of the civilian non-institutional population 16 -24 years of age.

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