Bureau of Labor Statistics

Projections of the labor force, 2016–26

November 2017

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Increases or decreases in the size of the labor force can significantly affect the growth of the economy. The charts in this article show how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the labor force to change for men and women, age groups, racial groups (Asians, Blacks, Whites, and others), and ethnic groups (Hispanic origin and non-Hispanic origin).

Workers on train.

 

The total labor force is expected to grow 0.6 percent per year from 2016 to 2026. As in previous years, the labor force is projected to grow more slowly than the number of jobs is, but this does not indicate a labor shortage. Instead, this discrepancy reflects that these two measures are based on different concepts.

(For more information on how BLS develops the projections, read about our methodology.)

The labor force is the number of people ages 16 and older who are either working or actively looking for work. It does not include active-duty military personnel or the institutionalized population, such as prison inmates. 

Historical participation rates

Overall labor force participation has declined, after a peak of 67.1 percent from 1997 to 2000. For women, labor force participation has fallen from a high of 60 percent in 1999. Men's labor force participation has been declining steadily since the 1940s. These drops are projected to continue for both women and men. (See chart 1.)

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Change in labor force participation rate by gender

Change in labor force participation rate for workers 16 years and older, 1956–2016 and projected 2016–26
Year Total Men Women

1956

60.0% 85.5% 36.9%

1957

59.6% 84.8% 36.9%

1958

59.5% 84.2% 37.1%

1959

59.3% 83.7% 37.1%

1960

59.4% 83.3% 37.7%

1961

59.3% 82.9% 38.1%

1962

58.8% 82.0% 37.9%

1963

58.7% 81.4% 38.3%

1964

58.7% 81.0% 38.7%

1965

58.9% 80.7% 39.3%

1966

59.2% 80.4% 40.3%

1967

59.6% 80.4% 41.1%

1968

59.6% 80.1% 41.6%

1969

60.1% 79.8% 42.7%

1970

60.4% 79.7% 43.3%

1971

60.2% 79.1% 43.4%

1972

60.4% 78.9% 43.9%

1973

60.8% 78.8% 44.7%

1974

61.3% 78.7% 45.7%

1975

61.2% 77.9% 46.3%

1976

61.6% 77.5% 47.3%

1977

62.3% 77.7% 48.4%

1978

63.2% 77.9% 50.0%

1979

63.7% 77.8% 50.9%

1980

63.8% 77.4% 51.5%

1981

63.9% 77.0% 52.1%

1982

64.0% 76.6% 52.6%

1983

64.0% 76.4% 52.9%

1984

64.4% 76.4% 53.6%

1985

64.8% 76.3% 54.5%

1986

65.3% 76.3% 55.3%

1987

65.6% 76.2% 56.0%

1988

65.9% 76.2% 56.6%

1989

66.5% 76.4% 57.4%

1990

66.5% 76.4% 57.5%

1991

66.2% 75.8% 57.4%

1992

66.4% 75.8% 57.8%

1993

66.3% 75.4% 57.9%

1994

66.6% 75.1% 58.8%

1995

66.6% 75.0% 58.9%

1996

66.8% 74.9% 59.3%

1997

67.1% 75.0% 59.8%

1998

67.1% 74.9% 59.8%

1999

67.1% 74.7% 60.0%

2000

67.1% 74.8% 59.9%

2001

66.8% 74.4% 59.8%

2002

66.6% 74.1% 59.6%

2003

66.2% 73.5% 59.5%

2004

66.0% 73.3% 59.2%

2005

66.0% 73.3% 59.3%

2006

66.2% 73.5% 59.4%

2007

66.0% 73.2% 59.3%

2008

66.0% 73.0% 59.5%

2009

65.4% 72.0% 59.2%

2010

64.7% 71.2% 58.6%

2011

64.1% 70.5% 58.1%

2012

63.7% 70.2% 57.7%

2013

63.2% 69.7% 57.2%

2014

62.9% 69.2% 57.0%

2015

62.7% 69.1% 56.7%

2016

62.8% 69.2% 56.8%

Projected 2017

62.5% 68.7% 56.6%

Projected 2018

62.3% 68.4% 56.6%

Projected 2019

62.1% 68.1% 56.5%

Projected 2020

62.0% 67.8% 56.5%

Projected 2021

61.8% 67.5% 56.4%

Projected 2022

61.6% 67.2% 56.3%

Projected 2023

61.4% 66.9% 56.3%

Projected 2024

61.3% 66.6% 56.2%

Projected 2025

61.1% 66.4% 56.1%

Projected 2026

61.0% 66.2% 56.1%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Numeric change in labor force 

The number of people in the labor force is projected to rise for most age groups, with significant increases in the 35- to 44-year-old and 65- to 74-year-old groups. (See chart 2.)

View Chart Data

Chart 2. Change in labor force by age (and gender)

Numeric change in labor force, projected 2016–26
Age group Numeric change in labor force, projected 2016–2026 Men Women

16 to 24

-1,334,000 -950,000 -384,000

25 to 34

1,967,000 927,000 1,039,000

35 to 44

4,779,000 2,749,000 2,030,000

45 to 54

-1,361,000 -1,024,000 -337,000

55 to 64

1,066,000 70,000 996,000

65 to 74

3,835,000 1,979,000 1,858,000

75 and older

1,510,000 772,000 738,000
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Percent change in labor force 

Workers ages 75 and older are expected to have the fastest rate of growth in the labor force, followed by workers in the 65- to 74-year-old group. (See chart 3.)

View Chart Data

Chart 3. Percent change in labor force by age (and gender)

Percent change in labor force, projected 2016–26
Age group Total Men Women

16 to 24

-6.3% -8.7% -3.7%

25 to 34

5.5% 4.8% 6.3%

35 to 44

14.6% 15.5% 13.4%

45 to 54

-4.0% -5.7% -2.1%

55 to 64

4.0% 0.5% 8.0%

65 to 74

50.3% 47.3% 54.0%

75 and older

91.5% 80.4% 106.8%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Labor force distribution by race 

As chart 4 shows, Whites’ share of the labor force is projected to decline somewhat, while shares of Blacks, Asians, and All other groups are projected to rise slightly over the 2016–26 decade.

View Chart Data

Chart 4. Change in labor force distribution by race

Percent distribution of labor force, 2016 and projected 2026
Race or ethnicity 2016 Projected 2026

White

78.3% 76.2%

Men

42.4% 40.8%

Women

35.9% 35.3%

Black

12.3% 12.7%

Men

5.9% 6.0%

Women

6.5% 6.7%

Asian

6.0% 7.2%

Men

3.2% 3.8%

Women

2.8% 3.4%

All other groups(1)

3.3% 3.9%

Men

1.7% 2.0%

Women

1.6% 1.9%
Footnotes:

(1) "All other groups" category includes those classified as being of multiple racial origins and the race categories of American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Labor force growth by race and ethnic group 

Among race and ethnic groups, the Hispanic origin group is projected to have the fastest rate of growth in the labor force. (See chart 5.)

View Chart Data

Chart 5. Percent change in labor force by race and ethnic group

Annual growth rate in labor force, projected 2016–26
Race or ethnicity Annual growth rate

Hispanic origin

2.7%

Men

2.5%

Women

2.9%

Asian

2.5%

Men

2.4%

Women

2.5%

All other groups(1)

2.3%

Men

2.1%

Women

2.5%

Black

0.9%

Men

0.8%

Women

1.0%

White

0.4%

Men

0.2%

Women

0.5%

White non-Hispanic

-0.2%

Men

-0.4%

Women

-0.1%
Footnotes:

(1) "All other groups" category includes those classified as being of multiple racial origins and the race categories of American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Workers driving home.

How BLS develops the projections

Every 2 years, BLS releases projections of the labor force, the overall economy, industry employment, and occupational employment. Economists in the BLS Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections develop these data in a number of steps, first analyzing broad trends in the labor force and overall economy and then examining several hundred industries and occupations. 

Population and labor force

Using population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, BLS analyzed how much the U.S. population and labor force are expected to grow over the 2016–26 decade. BLS then produced projections of the labor force—the civilian, noninstitutional population ages 16 and older that is working or actively seeking work—by looking at historical trends in labor force participation for each age, gender, and race or ethnic group.

Overall economy 

BLS then created a model of an economy that is operating at full potential, given the labor force and several other factors. Using this framework, BLS estimated the dollar value of each industry’s total output of goods or services. Some of these goods and services are sold to other industries; for example, corn is used in making cereal. Other output, such as the cereal itself or grocery delivery services, is sold directly to consumers.

Industry employment 

BLS also studied trends in productivity—the amount of output produced per hour of work. Because of technological advances, for example, some industries are able to increase output without increasing the number of hours worked by employees. BLS used this information to translate projected output into the number of jobs that each industry needs to produce its goods and provide its services.

Occupational employment 

Next, BLS projected how jobs in industries are expected to be distributed across detailed occupations, using 2016 employment data from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey and information from other sources for sectors not covered by the survey.

BLS then analyzed how the distribution obtained is likely to change over the 2016–26 decade, studying trends in technology, changing skill requirements, and other factors. And because employment trends in most occupations are closely tied to trends in particular industries, BLS used this information to project employment by occupation, to 2026.

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/careeroutlook Contact Career Outlook

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