Labor force in the United States
The labor force is the actual number of people available for work and is the sum of the employed and the unemployed. The U.S. labor force reached a high of 164.6 million persons in February 2020, just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The U.S. labor force has risen each year since 1960, with the exception of the period following the Great Recession, when it remained below 2008 levels from 2009 to 2011.
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The labor force participation rate, LFPR (or economic activity rate, EAR), is the ratio between the labor force and the overall size of their cohort (national population of the same age range). Much as in other countries in the West, the labor force participation rate in the U.S. increased significantly during the later half of the 20th century, largely because of women entering the workplace in increasing numbers. Labor force participation has declined steadily since 2000, primarily because of the aging and retirement of the Baby Boom generation. Analyzing labor force participation trends in the prime working age (25-54) cohort helps separate the impact of an aging population from other demographic factors (e.g., gender, race, and education) and government policies. The Congressional Budget Office explained in 2018 that higher educational attainment is correlated with higher labor force participation for workers aged 25–54. Prime-aged men tend to be out of the labor force because of disability, while a key reason for women is caring for family members.