Today about 63 percent of Americans participate in the labor force, meaning they are working or looking for work. This is the lowest participation rate since the 1970s.
Of course, there are many reasons why people may choose not to work or seek work. They may be retired, pursuing educational opportunities, or doing the very important (but unpaid) work of caring for children or elderly family members. But much of the recent reduction in labor force participation is due to out-of-work Americans giving up on finding the right jobs. And long-term unemployment can have serious consequences.
Polling from the 2016 presidential election shows that “jobs and the economy” was the number one issue. Even other issues, like immigration and trade policy, were framed as jobs-related. It’s clear that Americans are not satisfied with the economic opportunities available, and want a change of direction. They want Americans to go back to work.
In order to undo this recent exodus from the labor force, policymakers should focus on a few key issue areas: fostering economic growth by reducing economic burdens on employers, reforming an entitlements system that discourages work, and closing the skills gap so that the workers seeking work are equipped for the jobs available.