Eric Ruark's picture


  by  Eric Ruark

The Center for Immigration Studies has released employment data for the first quarter (Q1) of 2017, taken from the Current Population Survey. These figures show that the employment situation for Americans is considerably better now than it was in 2009, but not as favorable as before the Great Recession. Much of this has to do with the increase in the total working-age population, driven by immigration, outpacing job creation over the past decade.

While the official unemployment rate for U.S. citizens ages 18 to 65 has significantly decreased over the past few years, down to 4.8 percent in Q1 2017, the labor force participation rate – the percentage of working-age persons active in the labor market (either employed or officially unemployed) – in the words of CIS “remains abysmal.”

In Q1 2017, the labor participation rate for citizens of prime working age was 75 percent, down from 77.3 percent during the same period a decade ago. In 2000, the labor force participation rate for 18 to 65 year old citizens was 78.9 percent.

The labor force participation rate for all workers is at its lowest level since 1978.

Some argue that the participation rate is declining as America ages, with older workers retiring and leaving the workforce. This is true to an extent, but the real decline in the labor force participation rate is due to those between the ages of 18 and 65 dropping out, or never entering, the labor force. This is what makes the post-recession “recovery” so sluggish.

In Q1 2017, there were 45.1 million citizens not in the labor force. That is 6.6 million more than in 2007, and 12 million more than in 2000. While the media mainly focuses on the official unemployment rate, those who are not in the labor force, and not included in the unemployment calculation, are largely forgotten.

The situation for 18 to 65 year old citizens without a bachelor’s degree is considerably worse, with only 70 percent participating in the labor force. In 2000, their labor force participation rate was 76 percent (73.9% in 2007). There were 36.5 million U.S. citizens 18 to 65 without a bachelor’s degree who were not in the labor force.

These facts make Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) introduction of a guest worker bill that would bring in 500,000 more foreign workers such an egregious act. Recent good news on the economic front is only good news relative to how badly American workers were hit during the Great Recession. Now is the time Congress should focus its energies on giving tens of millions of able-bodied, working-age Americans the chance to find gainful employment. Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) RAISE Act would help to achieve that end.

The statistics cited above, and a much more detailed breakdown of the current employment situation in the United States, can be found on CIS’ website.

ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA

unemployment rates
Vulnerable Americans

Updated: Wed, May 31st 2017 @ 5:05pm EDT

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