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Winter 2013–14 Vol. 57, Number 4

Labor force


The labor force is the number of people ages 16 or older who are either working or looking for work. It does not include active-duty military personnel or the institutionalized population, such as prison inmates. Increases or decreases in the size of the labor force can significantly affect the growth of the economy.

The size of the labor force depends on two factors. The first is the size of the population, which is determined by rates of birth, immigration, and death. The second is the labor force participation rate—the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older that is working or actively seeking work.

Labor force participation rates vary significantly between men and women and among different age, racial, and ethnic groups. Population growth rates also vary from one group to another. These variations change the composition of the labor force over time.

The charts that follow show how the labor force is projected to change between men and women and among age groups, racial groups (Asians, Blacks, Whites, and others), and ethnic groups (Hispanics and non-Hispanics of any race). BLS bases its labor force projections on U.S. Census Bureau population projections.

Total labor force growth is expected to be about 0.5 percent annually between 2012 and 2022. (See table.) This average growth rate is shown as a dotted vertical line in the fourth chart below.

Annual growth rates in population and labor force, 2002–12 and projected 2012–22, in percent

Detailed industry

Annual growth rate

2002-12

Projected 2012-22

Civilian noninstitutional population, 16 years and older

1.1%

0.9%

Labor force

0.7

0.5

As in previous years, the labor force is projected to grow more slowly than the number of jobs, but this does not indicate a labor shortage. Instead, this discrepancy reflects that these two measures are based on different concepts.

 

Population and labor force, 2002, 2012, and projected 2022, in millions of people

This chart shows the sizes of the population and the labor force in 2002 and 2012 and their projected sizes in 2022. "Population" refers to the civilian noninstitutional population; people in this group are ages 16 or older and are not active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, inmates of penal or mental institutions, or in homes for the elderly. The labor force includes the subset of the population that is either working or currently seeking a job.

 

Labor force participation rates for men and women, 1972–2012 and projected 2022, in percent

Labor force participation rates are the percentages of men and women in the population who are either working or looking for work. The rates for men and women have converged over the last several decades. By 2022, the rates are projected to fall to 68 percent for men and 56 percent for women. The overall labor force participation rate is expected to decline from about 64 percent in 2012 to about 62 percent in 2022.

 

Numeric change in labor force by age, projected 2012–22, in thousands of people

The projected numeric change in the labor force by age shows the number of people working or looking for work who are expected to be added to each age group between 2012 and 2022. The shares of the labor force ages 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 continue to grow as the baby-boom generation ages but keeps working.

 

Annual growth rate in labor force by age, projected 2012–22, in percent

The projected annual growth rate in the labor force by age shows the percent increase or decrease expected each year between 2012 and 2022, on average, for people in these age groups who are either working or looking for work. The projected rate of growth is highest for those ages 75 and older, as the baby-boom generation ages and as advances in heathcare allow people to live and work longer.

 

Percent distribution of labor force by race, 2012 and projected 2022

The percent distribution of the labor force by race shows the share of people in each race who are either working or looking for work. Whites' share of the labor force is projected to fall from about 80 percent in 2012 to about 78 percent in 2022. Other races' shares are expected to rise as their population growth outpaces that of Whites.

 

Percent distribution of labor force by ethnic origin, 2012 and projected 2022

The percent distribution of the labor force by ethnic origin shows the share of people in each of these groups who are either working or looking for work. As the Hispanic population grows at a faster rate than the non-Hispanic group, its share of the labor force is projected to increase from almost 16 percent in 2012 to about 19 percent in 2022.

 

Annual growth rate in labor force by race and Hispanic origin, projected 2012–22, in percent

The projected annual growth rate in the labor force by race and Hispanic origin shows the percent increase expected during the 2012–22 decade for people in these groups who are either working or looking for work. The "all other races" category includes American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, multiracial individuals, and any other people who do not identify themselves as Black, White, or Asian.

 

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Last Updated: December 16, 2013