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October 23 2013

American Drop-Outs

Patrice J. Lee

Yesterday, a disappointing jobs report was released for the month of September –two weeks late thanks to the government shutdown. Despite a slight tick down in the national unemployment rate, the report spells bad news for American workers especially women.

The unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percentage to 7.2 percent as employers added just 148,000 non-farm jobs missing the 180,000 jobs expected by economists and well below the 193,000 added in August. Some 133,000 people were also hired during this period. But this is lackluster at best for an economy that’s in recovery and it hides uglier truths about the state of the labor force.

Behind the big headlines are more disturbing numbers.

90 million: That represents the number of discouraged Americans who have dropped out or are not participating in the labor force.

In from July to August, according to BLS, Americans not participating in the labor force climbed from 89,957,000 to 90,473,000, pushing past 90,000,000 for the first time, with a one month increase of 516,000.

In September, it climbed again to 90,609,000, an increase of 136,000 during the month.

In January 2009, when President Barack Obama took office, there were 80,507,000 Americans not in the labor force. Thus, the number of Americans not in the labor force has increased by 10,102,000 during Obama's presidency.

10 million Americans dropping out of the labor force is not a number the President should hang his hat on. He should hang his head in shame.

154,000: This represents the decline in the number of women holding jobs over the past month. According to the jobs report, the participation rate for women in our national labor force has hit its lowest level in 24 years. Talk about progress for women!

The BLS has been tracking the participation of women in the U.S. labor force since 1948. In January 1948, 32.0 percent of the non-institutionalized female U.S. population over the age of 16 participated in the labor force. That percentage generally climbed over five decades, peaking at 60.3 percent in April 2000.

Since then, the labor force participation rate among women has been generally declining.

In August, according to BLS, the female civilian labor force was 72,973,000. In September it dropped to 72,705,000—a decline of 268,000.

Similarly, the number of women working in America dropped from 68,005,000 in August to 67,851,000 in September—a decline of 154,000.

However, because the decline in the number females in the civilian labor force was greater than the decline the number of females actually holding jobs, the unemployment rate for women actually dropped from 6.8 percent in August to 6.7 percent in September.

The question we need to ask is why women are dropping out of the labor force? The easy answer is that jobs aren’t plentiful but other factors are likely at play.

Some speculate that redistributionist policies like SNAP/food stamps, Medicare, and disability benefits contribute to some women and workers being less inclined to join or remain in the workforce.

Slicing up the female demographic we find that marital status plays a significant role in whether a women is likely to work:

In February, the BLS released a "databook" on the status of women in the labor force as of 2011. It revealed that married women (57.1 percent) were more likely to be employed than unmarried women (49.8 percent)...

Married women with children under 18 were also more likely to be employed (65.1 percent) than unmarried women with children under 18 (63.6 percent). While married women (70.7 percent) and unmarried women (70.8 percent) with children between 6 and 17 were almost equally likely to be employed, married women with children under 6 (58.3 percent) and under 3 (55.9 percent) were more likely to be employed than unmarried women with children under 6 (54.5 percent) and under 3 (49.7 percent).

Whatever is driving married and single women out of the workforce ought to be a focus for our policymakers. There has been debate about whether women should lean in and pursue career over family. However, perhaps it’s time to ask why so many women are leaning out entirely and we can reverse that trend.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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