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May 2002, Vol. 125, No. 5
A century of change: the U.S. labor force, 1950–2050Mitra Toossi
The history of the U.S. labor force is a story of dramatic change. The rippling effects of the massive demographic changes that occurred within the U.S. population over the latter part of the 20th century will create further changes in the first half of the 21st century. The labor force—the number of people working or looking for work—is a dynamic concept that demonstrates the net impact of all demographic, social, political, and historical forces affecting a population. The growth of the labor force is one of the main ingredients of economic growth and prosperity.
This article profiles and projects U.S. labor force trends for a period of 100 years, from 1950 to 2050, on a decennial basis. Changes in both growth rates of the population and labor force participation rates have created a steadily growing labor force that, compared with 1950, is today older, more diversified, and increasingly made up of women. The same forces that have influenced the size and composition of the U.S. labor force over the past 50 years are expected to shape the future of the workforce as well. Some of the key findings emanating from the research upon which the article is based are as follows:
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1 The civilian labor force consists of all employed and unemployed persons actively seeking jobs in the civilian noninstitutional population.
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