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December 2015

Labor force projections to 2024: the labor force is growing, but slowly


The 16-to-24 and 25-to-34 age groups will make up nearly 34 percent of the labor force in 2024; these two groups correspond roughly to the “millennial generation.”16

Prime-age workers 25 to 54 years. Prime-age workers have the strongest ties to the labor market. The prime-age labor force numbered 93.9 million in 1994, 102.1 million in 2004, and 100.8 million in 2014, the latter drop a result mainly of the recession of 2007–09. BLS projects that the prime-age workforce will reach 104.7 million in 2024. The group, which made up 71.6 percent of the total labor force in 1994, saw its share de­crease to 69.3 percent in 2004 and then again to 64.6 percent in 2014. BLS expects the group’s share to fall to just under 64 percent of the total labor force in 2024.

Workers 55 years and older. In contrast to the declining trend of the youth labor force, the number of workers 55 years and older in the labor force grew from 15.5 million in 1994 to 23.0 million in 2004. Then, in 2014, their number climbed to 33.9 million, nearly 11 million more than in 2004. The group’s share of the total labor force also increased, from 11.9 percent in 1994, to 15.6 percent in 2004, to 21.7 percent in 2014. The 55-years-and-older age group is projected to increase its number in the labor force to 40.6 million in 2024, and its share is expected to reach nearly 25 percent that year. Within the group, the labor force share of the 55-to-64-year-olds increased from 8.9 percent in 1994, to 12.2 percent in 2004, to 16.4 percent in 2014.The group’s share of the total labor force is expected to grow to 16.6 percent over the next decade, and within the 55-years-and-older group, the older subgroups will increase their shares faster than the younger ones.

Labor force by race and ethnicity

The diversity of the labor force has increased in the past several decades, as a result of higher rates of immigration. Different fertility rates and major differences in immigration patterns produce different trends in the population growth and labor force growth of the various race and ethnic groups. The share of minorities in the labor force will expand more than ever before. Because immigration is the main engine of popu­lation growth and because Hispanic and Asian men have high labor force participation rates, the diversity of the labor force will increase. BLS projects that, by 2024, Hispanics (19.8 percent), Blacks (12.7 percent), Asians (6.6 percent), and all those belonging to the “all other groups” category (3.7 percent) will make up nearly 43 percent of the civilian labor force.17

White labor force. BLS projects that, during the next decade, the White labor force will have an average annual growth rate of 0.2 percent, much slower than the rates of the other racial groups. More than 80 percent of Hispanics are counted in the White race group, so that group will remain the largest in 2024. However, the group’s share of the total labor force has been on a declining trend for the past couple of decades and even before that. Whites ac­counted for 84.8 percent of the labor force in 1994, 82.1 percent in 2004, and 79.1 percent in 2014, with a further decline to 77.0 percent expected in 2024. The White pop­ulation has a lower fertility rate than the other racial and ethnic groups have, and, in addition, Whites immigrate to the United States in lower numbers than the other groups do.18


16 CPS data, including data on the labor force, are based on detailed age categories and provide no generational information, such as which age group or groups are considered “millennials.” Nor are there any exact definitions or exact starting and ending dates indicating when the millennial generation was born. However, the millennials correspond roughly to people born in the early 1980s to 2000. If we accept this definition, then the millennial generation corresponds roughly to the 16-to-24 and 25-to-34 age groups combined.

17 Hispanics can belong to any race group, such as Black Hispanics, Asian Hispanics, or Hispanics in the “all other” race category. As a result, the combined share of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and those belonging in the “all other” category may be even higher than the 43 percent of the labor force mentioned here.

18 “Most children younger than age 1 are minorities, Census Bureau reports,” Newsroom archive (U.S. Census Bureau, May 17, 2012), https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-90.html.

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About the Author

Mitra Toossi

Mitra Toossi is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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