Raw Data: The Prime-Age Labor Force Participation Rate

Here is the labor force participation rate for prime-age men and women over the past two decades:

In 20 years, the trend participation rate has dropped 4 percentage points for men and 3 percentage points for women. This is only for people aged 25-54, so it’s not about boomers retiring. It’s been dropping steadily, so it’s not about recessions. It’s not about tax cuts or tax increases. The unemployment rate is currently 4.1 percent, so it’s not about a lack of jobs. Nor is this happening in the rest of the world:

Whatever the reason, this decline represents about 4 million people who would be working if participation rates had stayed steady. Why aren’t they? Does it represent the 5 million manufacturing workers who have lost jobs since 1997, some of whom have quit working rather than take other jobs? Is it about China? But if so, why is everyone else immune? Is it the rise of disability—or is that effect rather than cause? Or something else? It is a mystery.

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate