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.
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 https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2004/jan/wk4/art02.htm (visited April 28, 2017).
Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics
STEM occupations: past, present, and future
A look at employment and wages in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations.
Workplace injuries and illnesses and employer costs for workers’ compensation
Workplace injury and illness data and the costs to employers for workers’ compensation in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations.
A look at the future of the U.S. labor force to 2060
Projected long-term trends in the growth, size, and composition of the labor force.
Union membership in the United States
Historical trends in union membership among employed wage and salary workers; union membership by a variety of demographic characteristics.