scribed in Chapter 3, was the overall growth of the population after the Second World War. Beginning in the early 1960s, the surge in labor force size was propelled by the large number of postwar babies who began to enter the labor force. A second contributor to labor force growth was the increase in the number and proportion of women, especially married women, undertaking employment. The third factor was an increase in the number foreign-born workers, which accelerated in the 1970s.

Between 1950 and 2010, the labor force1 grew more rapidly than did the population as a whole. Whereas the total U.S. population increased 102 percent over the 60-year period, the corresponding increase in civilian labor force size was 148 percent. The highest rates of labor force growth were seen in the 1970s, when large numbers of the baby boom generation entered the prime working ages (Figure 5-1). By the 1980s, the majority of the baby boomers were of working age. While the absolute size of the labor force has continued to rise since the 1970s, the decadal growth rates have declined.

Non-Hispanic whites constitute the bulk of the total labor force (70 percent in 2005), but the racial and ethnic composition of workers has been changing. The proportion of the labor force that is foreign-born increased from 6 percent in 1960 to 13 percent in 2000 and to 16 percent in 2009 (Lee and Mather, 2008; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011b).

Labor Force Participation

The long-term growth of the labor force has been the product of several subtrends, not all of which have moved in the same direction. The total labor force participation rate (people aged 16 and over in the labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population aged 16 and over) fluctuated between 58 and 60 percent in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. Beginning in the mid-1960s, the labor force participation rate (LFPR) began a long-term increase that reached a high point—67 percent—in the latter 1990s. The LFPR declined slightly, to 66 percent in the mid-2000s and less than 65 percent in 2010.

Figure 5-2 indicates the labor force participation experience of four broad age/sex groupings. Men have always constituted the majority of the U.S. labor force, but as the total labor force has grown over the past 60 years, the participation rate of prime age (25–54) men has declined some-

_______________

1The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines “labor force” to include all persons aged 16 or older in the civilian, noninstitutionalized population who, during a given reference week, (1) worked as paid employees or in their own business, (2) worked 15 hours or more without pay in a family enterprise, (3) were temporarily absent from a regular job, or (4) had no employment but were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement