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The Rise and Fall of Labor Force Participation in the U.S.

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Letter Writer:

John Foote, retired from Washington University in St. Louis, McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences

Date Posted:

July 9, 2014


His views on the labor force participation (LFP) rate touched on a subject frequently in the news this year: Where is our economy headed, and where are the workers?

Economists have been analyzing data on workforces for a long time; so, please forgive me if I oversimplify or connect less important items to the changes in the LFP rate, items like increased high school dropout rates, failed educational systems, growth of our prison population, and increased mergers and acquisitions.

According to reports:

  • The U.S. now ranks near the top of the list of advanced economies when it comes to high school dropout rates.
  • Too few of our students are achieving at a level to make our country competitive internationally. Proficiency in reading and math are either falling or falling behind the proficiency rates in competing countries.
  • The federal prison population has grown by 800 percent since 1980. The result is overcrowding, budget busting and early release.
  • Some manufacturers are bringing their work back to the U.S. after having moved overseas years ago. However, some are complaining that they can't find enough Americans with the right training to work in their plants anymore.