By Tucker, Patrick
The Futurist , Vol. 43, No. 3
The U.S. labor force could rise considerably in 2009 and 2010. This means the number of people working and the number of people actively looking for work will increase. It means more people competing for jobs in the short term, adding to stress on U.S. job seekers. Increased competition also implies that the U.S. labor force will become more efficient as vacancies are filled by higher-caliber employees.
This scenario runs somewhat counter to recent trends. However, looking at previous forecasts in the light of the present situation does yield some surprising insights.
First, here's what the data say today:
* The labor force is shrinking. U.S. labor force participation was 65% in January 2009 which was down slightly. This means 65% of the population who were legally old enough to work and younger than the retirement age were either working or seeking work.
* More people are on the periphery of the working world. About 2.1 million people were marginally attached to the labor force in January, about 400,000 more than 12 months earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). "These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the [four] weeks preceding the survey," the Bureau reported.
* Discouragement is growing. Among the marginally attached individuals, some 270,000 more workers were identified as "discouraged" than a year before, meaning they did not believe any work was available to them and had not looked for work in the four weeks leading up to the survey. There were 734,000 discouraged workers in the United States in January 2009.
Given these dismal statistics about some very discouraged people, how is it possible that the number of Americans participating in the labor force will stop moving down and instead start moving up? For answers, it becomes necessary to look at what people were forecasting before the downturn, when economic trends pointed upward toward more uninterrupted economic growth.
* Boom times were causing some young people to opt out of the work scene. …