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Labor Force Participation Rates by Age, Sex, and Race

Although unemployment is down and an additional 10.5 million people are expected to be employed over the 2016 to 2026 decade, the diminishing rate of labor force growth due to an aging population and other changing demographics is projected to further slow the U.S. labor force participation rate. This is the fifth factoid in a series of six factoids detailing the projected demographic shifts in the workforce as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 Q4. *See factoid one in this series for Labor Force Methodology

As the labor force gets older, the overall labor force participation rate is projected to decrease – down to 61 percent by 2026. But the individual age groups are of particular interest.  For the youngest age group 16 to 24, participation in the workforce declined steadily each 10-year span – from 66 percent in 1996 to a projected 53 percent in 2026. This decline in workforce participation is associated in part with a lower high school dropout rate and increased attendance at colleges, all positive factors. In fact, in many retail labor markets, senior citizens are filling the slots once held by teens and young adults.

The labor force participation rates among 25 to 54 year olds have trickled down but all are  expected to be above 80 percent in 2026. And while population numbers for 55 to 64 year olds are projected to hold at 41.3 million over 10 years, the labor force participation rate is expected to increase by 3 percent with more people working longer. For seniors 65 to 74, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 30 percent will still be working in 2026.

The labor force is taking a huge hit with men leaving or not returning to the workforce. At a 74.9 percent labor force participation rate in 1996, the rate for men is projected to fall 11.6 percentage points to 66.2 percent by 2026. However, contrary to strides being made by women in the workforce, just 56.1 percent of adult women 16 and over are expected to be in the labor force by 2026 – down 5.4 percentage points since 1996.

Workforce participation rates were highest in 2006 just prior to the Great Recession in all race and ethnic groups, except White, non Hispanics. Rates in 2016 are projected to continue to decline among all race and ethnic groups from 2016 to 2026 as the population ages with the exception of Hispanics. Hispanics have more of its adult population under the age of 65 than any other race or ethnic group and are less impacted by the aging workforce. Hispanics have the largest percentage of its adult population ready to work at 65.9 percent, with Hispanic men having the highest participation rate of any sex or race at 74.4 percent.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics *projected

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Fast Fact: Labor Force Rates Decline into 2026
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