Most People Not in the Labor Force Don’t Want a Job

by Nick Beleiciks

June 12, 2017

Some commentaries about the labor market continue to claim that the growing number of people not in the labor force is a sign of labor market weakness. That’s not true. The vast majority of people not in the labor force don’t want a job. Most people not in the labor force are retired, ill or disabled, going to school, have home responsibilities keeping them out of the labor force, or have other reasons. Some of them would still like a job, but the share that do is near a historical low.

There was an increase in the number of people who weren’t in the labor force but still wanted a job, during and following the Great Recession. Labor market conditions have improved a lot since then and the number is now similar to what it was before the recession. However, some commentary about the labor market continues to suggest that there are still a bunch of people who are “on the sidelines” of the labor force. That’s not supported by the data. The growing number of people not in the labor force aren’t on the sidelines, they’ve retired and left the stadium.

To view trends in the share of people not in the labor force who want a job, click here.


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