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Comparing labor force participation in the recovery from the 2020 recession with prior recessions

October 14, 2021

The labor force participation rate was 61.6 percent in September 2021. September marked 17 months into the recovery from the February–April 2020 recession. While the participation rate has increased by 1.4 percentage points since its low in April 2020, it is 1.7 percentage points below the pre-recession level of 63.3 percent in February 2020. An economic recovery marks the period after a recession ends and before another begins.

Labor force participation rate during recessionary periods, seasonally adjusted
Number of months since beginning of recovery 2001 recession 2007–09 recession 2020 recession

-20

67.3% 65.8% 62.7%

-19

67.3 66.0 62.7

-18

67.1 66.0 62.8

-17

67.1 66.2 62.9

-16

66.9 66.0 63.0

-15

66.9 66.1 63.1

-14

66.9 65.9 63.1

-13

66.8 66.1 63.1

-12

66.9 66.1 62.9

-11

67.0 66.1 62.9

-10

67.2 66.1 62.9

-9

67.1 66.0 63.1

-8

67.2 66.0 63.2

-7

66.9 65.9 63.1

-6

66.7 65.8 63.2

-5

66.7 65.7 63.2

-4

66.8 65.8 63.3

-3

66.5 65.6 63.4

-2

66.8 65.7 63.3

-1

66.7 65.7 62.6

0

66.7 65.7 60.2

1

66.7 65.5 60.8

2

66.5 65.4 61.4

3

66.8 65.1 61.5

4

66.6 65.0 61.7

5

66.7 65.0 61.4

6

66.7 64.6 61.6

7

66.6 64.8 61.5

8

66.5 64.9 61.5

9

66.6 64.9 61.4

10

66.7 65.2 61.4

11

66.6 64.9 61.5

12

66.4 64.6 61.7

13

66.3 64.6 61.6

14

66.4 64.7 61.6

15

66.4 64.6 61.7

16

66.3 64.4 61.7

17

66.4 64.6 61.6

18

66.4 64.3

19

66.5 64.2

20

66.2 64.1

21

66.1 64.2

22

66.1 64.2

23

66.1 64.1

24

66.1 64.0

25

65.9 64.0

26

66.1 64.1

27

66.0 64.2

28

66.0 64.1

29

65.9 64.1

30

66.0 64.0

31

66.1 63.7

32

66.1 63.8

33

66.0 63.8

34

65.8 63.7

35

65.9 63.7

36

66.0 63.8

37

65.9 63.7

38

65.8 63.5

39

65.9 63.6

40

65.9 63.8

41

66.1 63.6

42

66.1 63.7

43

66.1 63.7

44

66.1 63.4

45

66.2 63.3

46

66.1 63.4

47

66.1 63.4

The labor force participation rate never fully recovered to its pre-recession levels following the 2001 and 2007–09 recessions. At the start of each new recession the rate has been lower than it had been at its lowest point during the prior recession.   

During the 2001 recession, the participation rate gradually declined from its level of 67.2 percent in March 2001. In April 2003, 17 months into the recovery, the participation rate was 66.4 percent.

In December 2007, at the onset of the 2007–09 recession, the participation rate was 66.0 percent. Again the rate gradually declined throughout the recession and well into the recovery. In November 2010, 17 months into the recovery, the participation rate was 64.6 percent.

These data are from the Current Population Survey and are seasonally adjusted. See "The Employment Situation — September 2021" to learn more. Also see charts of Employment Situation data. Economic recessions are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Comparing labor force participation in the recovery from the 2020 recession with prior recessions at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/comparing-labor-force-participation-in-the-recovery-from-the-2020-recession-with-prior-recessions.htm (visited December 01, 2021).

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