Nearly 1 in 8 men and over 1 in 4 women aged 25-54 not in the workforce

By Steve Eggleston

An item released yesterday from the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee caught my eye. In it, they note that nearly 1 in 8 men between the ages of 25 and 54, long considered the prime workforce, are not even in the workforce, and that once those officially unemployed are added to that, over 1 in 6 men aged 25-54 are out of work.

The 12.0% of men aged 25-54 not looking for work as of April 2014, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, was the second-highest non-participation rate on record going back to 1948, just short of the 12.1% not looking for work in October 2013.

The 16.7% of men aged 25-54 not working last month, the second-highest so far this year on a seasonally-adjusted basis, is higher than every month prior to January 2009.

The first graphic from the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee is, all by itself, astonishing. The number of men aged 25-54 who were not working rose, on an unadjusted basis, from 7,569,000 in April 2007 to 10,208,000 last month, an increase of 3,523,000.

It, however, understates the problem. The male 25-54 portion of civilian noninstitutional population, or the potential workforce, actually shrank by 884,000. Moreover, continuing on the theme of workforce dropouts, 2,736,000 of the 3,523,000 million who lost work gave up looking for work and thus dropped out of the workforce.

Lest one thinks it is merely a problem among the males of America, I have more bad news from the ranks of prime-working-age women. First, I must point out that the labor force and employment numbers of men and women aged 25-54 have been functionally equivalent, changing at essentially the same rate, since 1995.

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, 26.1% of women aged 25-54 were not part of the workforce in April 2014. While it isn’t as close to the Obama-era record of 26.5%, set in October 2013, as the men’s April 2014 non-participation rate was, and is “merely” the 6th-highest non-participation rate of the Obama era, it is higher than every month between January 1991 and April 2013.

The 30.2% of women aged 25-54 not working last month on a seasonally-adjusted basis is the highest percentage so far this year, and other than a tie with January 1991, higher than every month between October 1988 and September 2009.

Comparing the unadjusted numbers from April 2007 and April 2014 yields similar results for women aged 25-54 as it does for men aged 25-54. While the female 25-54 portion of the civilian noninstutional population shrank by 213,000, the number of women aged 25-54 not working rose from 17,505,000 to 18,824,000, an increase of 1,532,000. Of those 1,532,000 no longer working, 858,000 gave up looking for work and thus dropped out of the workforce.