Evaluating projections of labor force participation rates

January 27, 2004

From 1986 to 1994, BLS projected the 2000 labor force five times, roughly 2 years apart.

Projections of 2000 labor force participation rate by sex, 1986 - 1994
[Chart data—TXT]

Four of the five projections of the labor force participation rate—the proportion of the population working or looking for work—were higher than the actual. As the chart indicates, the aggregate labor force rate was below 68 percent in 2000, though three of the projections anticipated that it would exceed 68 percent in 2000.

From the projection made in 1988 up to 1994 the error in the aggregate labor force participation rate decreased for each projection. However, the 1986 projection was the second most accurate.

Comparing men and women, it is clear that men’s rates were more accurately projected than those of women. All of the projected labor force participation rates for women were high.

As the labor force rates of men change more slowly than those of women, it is easier to accurately project their labor force participation rate. This slower rate of change for male rates may be ending for older men.

A variety of incentives exist that could result in higher labor force participation rates for retirement age men. These include a change in the normal retirement age under Social Security, and a switch from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement plans.

These data are from the BLS Employment Projections program. For more information, see "Evaluating the BLS labor force projections to 2000," by Howard N Fullerton, Jr., Monthly Labor Review, October 2003.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Evaluating projections of labor force participation rates on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2004/jan/wk4/art02.htm (visited September 26, 2016).


Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics

  • A look at healthcare spending, employment, pay, benefits, and prices
    As one of the largest U.S. industries, healthcare is steadily growing to meet the needs of an increasing population with an increasing life expectancy. This Spotlight looks at how much people spend on healthcare, current and projected employment in the industry, employer-provided healthcare benefits, healthcare prices, and pay for workers in healthcare occupations.

  • Employment and Wages in Healthcare Occupations
    Healthcare occupations are a significant percentage of U.S. employment. Some of the largest and highest paying occupations are in healthcare. This Spotlight examines employment and wages for healthcare occupations.

  • Fifty years of looking at changes in peoples lives
    Longitudinal surveys help us understand long-term changes, such as how events that happened when a person was in high school affect labor market success as an adult.