The Biden White House understandably continues to tout the falling unemployment rate, but this masks the continuing low labor force participation of working-age Americans.
So, what is the state of the economy, specifically the employment situation for U.S. workers? The answer to that question depends on how one views a "strong labor market." According to the White House and the corporate media, American workers have rarely, if ever, had it so good.
"Unemployment is at an historic low."
Yes, the [strong]official unemployment rate[/strong] is at its lowest point since 1969, and it has seldom been as low as its current 3.4 percent since the Bureau of Labor began reporting that figure in 1947.
However, the official unemployment number is very different than the number who are of working age and who are actively participating in the labor force. While the unemployment rate has been dropping, the labor force participation rate has remained well below its pre-COVID level. In fact, it has yet to rebound from the massive layoffs during the Great Recession of 2007-2008
There are currently 100.1 million people who are in the civilian labor force who are "Not in the Labor Force" in addition to the 5.7 million who are officially unemployed. Only the latter are counted when tallying official unemployment, or what is sometimes referred to as the U-3. Those not in the labor force are very often treated by politicians and by reporters as non-existent.
About half of the those who are not in the labor force are 65 and older, which means the other half — another 50 million — are between the ages of 16 and 64. Surely, some who are of prime working age don't want to work, and others don't have to, but it is not reasonable for anyone to suggest that the United States has a "labor shortage," especially when wage levels aren't keeping pace with inflation. But what is reasonable does not determine U.S. economic policy, not when it comes to the incessant demand for more immigration to make up for a "shortage" of American workers.
A shortage of workers quite simply means there aren't enough available people within a population to fill open jobs, no matter the wage offered by employers. We have seen employers raising wages to entice workers to come off the sidelines — which is only possible if there are workers on the sidelines. A notable recent example was Walmart raising its starting wage to $14 an hour.
Wage increases for American workers are a good thing — if you are on the side of American workers. A tightening labor market is good for those providing the labor. What we must not forget is that when we talk about labor we are talking about people, not a commodity that can be written off or disposed of when it becomes inconvenient for employers to recruit, train, and retain American workers.
Some business lobbyists make their argument for more immigration about a "skilled labor" shortage, even while tech companies are laying off employees by the tens of thousands. There is no shortage in any segment of the labor market, and very few of the illegal border crossers streaming into the United States under President Biden are going to end up working in Silicon Valley. There is a shortage of American employers who, frankly, give a damn about Americans who are out of work.
This week, the Center for Immigration Studies reported that 1.9 million fewer Americans were working at the end of 2022 than were working pre-COVID, while during the same period the number of immigrants (legal and illegal) working in the United States increased by two million. There also has been a long-term decline in the workforce participation rate of the U.S. born, "especially pronounced among the less-educated."
Steven A. Camarota, the lead author of the report, told The Washington Times:
This decline is a disaster for the economy and more important for society as being out of the labor force is associated with numerous problems including crime, drug abuse and even an early death.
Surely there are employers who are struggling, too. Keeping a small business afloat is a challenge even in good economic times. Private sector job creators are vital to a market economy. But no U.S. employers should ever see immigration as a means to boost their profit margin by replacing American workers.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, May 11th 2023 @ 3:23pm EDT